By: Brian Sikma
Wisconsin is suddenly back in the national spotlight with the presidential race as both campaigns boost their presence in the state ahead of the November 6 election. Seen as competitive in the past, the state gave its 10 electoral votes to Barack Obama in a lopsided 414,818-vote margin in 2008. Previously, Democrats carried the state by narrow margins, winning it by 5,708 votes in 2000, and 11,384 votes in 2004.
Early voting, currently under way, generally favors Democrats who, in conjunction with left-leaning community organizing groups, take advantage of the time frame afforded to turn out voters who would otherwise likely not show up at the polls on election day. Across the country political analysts are looking at early voting turnout and tracking absentee ballots to gauge enthusiasm and glean potentially helpful clues that might indicate whether or not a particular state can be carried by Obama again or tip into Mitt Romney’s column.
Wisconsin’s early voting period this year is two work weeks (Monday through Friday) and one weekend. Voting stops the Friday before the election. In 2008 three weeks spanning two weekends were allocated to early voting. Despite the shorter time frame in 2012 early voting (also known as in-person absentee voting) could still be on track to meet 2008 levels. In the City of Milwaukee, the number of early votes cast this year already exceeds the margin of victory Democrats experienced in 2000 and 2004.
According to City of Milwaukee election officials, 16,449 early votes have been cast in-person as of Sunday night. Government Accountability Board data shows that the City of Milwaukee had 31,974 early votes cast in-person for the 2008 cycle. During the recall election earlier this year, when political energy was arguably even higher than it is now (Wisconsin is suffering from election fatigue), early voting was most intense in the first few days of the early voting period, tailing off to a reduced but steady stream days before the period ended.
Neil Albrecht, executive director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, predicted to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that in-person early voting would exceed 2008 levels if the current rate keeps up.
With polling showing the presidential race essentially a dead heat, and one analysis pointing out that Romney is tracking Walker’s recall election numbers in key parts of the state, early voting in Milwaukee at 2008 levels over a shorter time frame could mean that Milwaukee’s early voting period tips the state back into the Democratic column.
The City of Madison was not able to return a request for early voting totals.
Alternatively, if early voting totals in Milwaukee do not reach 2008 levels and if Republicans are able to regardless of final numbers keep their margin of loss to Democrats in the early voting period narrow, Wisconsin could finally, narrowly tip into the Republican column on election night.