This was a record-setting year for a primary election in Wisconsin. The state hasn’t seen this kind of turnout since 1972 when Richard Nixon and George McGovern won their respective nominations.
Projected voter turnout for the state by the Government Accountability Board was estimated at 40 percent. But on Tuesday, the G.A.B. reported actual Tuesday turnout to be 47.35 percent.
That means at least 330,000 more voters than expected came out to the polls. Some areas near Waukesha reported a turnout of 80 to 85 percent, but Northeast Wisconsin had some particularly high voter turnout, too.
In Appleton, where there was a mayoral race, voter turnout was at 67 percent. One precinct there reported a 76 percent turnout. And in other communities, like Suamico, where there were no local races, turnout was just over 65 percent.
February’s primary here in Wisconsin saw about a ten percent turnout, and typically presidential primaries will see between 20 and 30 percent. Those numbers are even lower on college campuses. But not this year, as young people came out to vote like we haven’t seen in decades.
It’s not something we’re used to seeing during a primary election. Long lines at college and universities. At Marquette, some students didn’t get to vote until after 9:30 Tuesday night. UWGB and Lawrence University both had long lines at the polls, and turnout at Lawrence was more than 60 percent.
For many, it’s their first time casting a ballot. So why this primary?
Aaron Weinschenk, a political science professor at UWGB, says there are two reasons. First, students see clear differences among the candidates. And that makes this election different from most.
“Take Trump and Clinton. They’re polarizing figures… you sort of love them or hate them,” Weinschenk says. “Bernie, too, you know, people love him or they hate him.”
Communications major Ben Koenigs say it’s why he started paying attention. He went to a Bernie Sanders rally and he attended the MSNBC town hall with Donald Trump. And it’s ultimately why he voted.
“Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are trying to shake things up even though they’re on different sides of the spectrum,” Koenigs says. “But I feel like that’s why millennials are going out to vote and being active in this election.”
Aaron Weinschenk says the other reason voters–including the older ones–showed up to vote?
“The race isn’t settled yet. We don’t know who the nominees are going to be,” he says. “So people know that it’s competitive, and that fuels people to get more involved.”
Clio Briggs, a sophomore at Lawrence University, is from Vermont. She recently got a Wisconsin I.D. and registered to vote here. She says her vote for Bernie Sanders was more important in Wisconsin than in his and her home state.
“We’re finally getting into states where people don’t really know which way they’re going to go,” she says. “Wisconsin is kind of in the middle of things. So it could really influence other elections in other states.”
Several of the reasons those college students voted are reasons most Wisconsinites voted. Weinschenk says one other reason is because the eyes of the nation were on Wisconsin. Many felt it was a responsibility to show up, vote, and represent the state.