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Expert weighs in on voter turnout after state and local primary election

Less than a quarter of people registered voted
Posted: 1:40 PM, Feb 19, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-19 14:40:29-05
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MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin's state and local primary election is wrapped up and winning candidates are now preparing to face off in the general election on April 7th.

"The primary matters because, especially in cities, it tends to be where the most political competition is." said Dr. Philip Rocco, an assistant professor of political science at Marquette University.

Rocco says he believes primary election voter turnout could have been higher and he points to previous primary elections as a reason why he thinks so.

"Back in the mayoral primaries in 2008, 2004 and before, turnout was close to 50%," he said.

In the City of Milwaukee, less than 24% of registered voters made it to the voting booth during the state and local primary elections Tuesday.

Voters had a chance to help narrow down mayoral candidates, as well as candidates running for county executive and for a seat on the bench of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Dr. Rocco says part of the reason voter turnout was low could stem from a primary election date change that happened in Wisconsin back in 2011. Legislators voted to change the national and presidential primary election date from the third week in February, where it matched up with state and local primary elections, to the second week in April.

"When there are elections timed differently and you have a national primary timed differently than a mayoral primary for example, you get much lower level voter turn out and it tends to protect incumbent candidates," said Rocco.

Rocco said he believes that changing the national primary election dates back to how they were back in the early 2000s could help double voter turnout in local elections.

Despite all of those beliefs, Rocco also says there is a need for more engagement in the community ahead of all election dates.

"Actually having conversations, talking to your neighbors and reminding people that elections are coming up," he said.

It's a political science professor's perspective and a call for action at the beginning of a very busy election year.

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