With highly competitive and publicized races appearing up and down the ballot Tuesday, state and local officials are anticipating what could be a surge of voters.
Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson is predicting nearly 55 percent of eligible voters to turn out—more than 10 percentage points higher than the 2010 midterms. It’s also more than the 2014 midterms, which had 48.6 percent turnout. Tollefson said there are about 121,000 eligible voters in Rock County.
Beloit City Clerk-Treasurer Lori Stottler is predicting just under 40 percent turnout. That’s a bump from 2014 and 2010, when 34 percent and 31 percent voted, respectively. The city of Beloit has 27,045 eligible voters, Stottler said.
In Janesville, city Clerk-Treasurer Dave Godek is predicting 55 percent turnout—up from about 53 percent in 2014 and about 48 percent in 2010. Janesville has about 44,412 eligible voters, Godek said.
“I do think that there’s a lot of interest in this election. My expectation is that we’re going to have pretty heavy turnout,” Godek said. “Folks are engaged in the process right now, and they want to vote.”
One of the centerpiece themes this election season has been absentee voting. Absentee voting, also called early voting, is when a voter casts a ballot either by mail or in person before Election Day. The last day to absentee vote in Rock County was Friday, and mail-in ballots must arrive no later than 8 p.m. Tuesday.
In Rock County and across the state, the number of absentee ballots cast this year has skyrocketed from previous midterms.
Tollefeson said municipal clerks in Rock County had issued more than 10,000 absentee ballots by Thursday. In Janesville, Godek said 5,860 ballots had been cast by the end of the day Thursday. That is compared to 3,566 cast at the same point in 2014 and 2,419 in 2010.
In Beloit, Stottler said more than 1,400 absentee ballots likely will be cast. That’s a jump from 2010 and 2014, when 783 and 845 absentee ballots were cast, respectively. It’s lower than the past two presidential elections, when 3,045 were cast in 2012 and 2,581 were cast in 2016.
The rise of local absentee ballots mirrors a trend across the state. On Thursday, 420,015 absentee ballots had been cast statewide—about 46,000 more than all the absentee ballots cast in 2014 and about 43,000 shy of those cast at the same point in 2016.
“Absentee voting is definitely stronger now than it was in 2014,” said Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission. “What we don’t know is whether or not this affects the total number of ballots. Are we trading activity on Election Day? … Is it roughly the same poll of people that are behaving differently, or does it mean more people are coming out to vote in total?”
Barry Burden, a political scientist at UW-Madison, said Wisconsin has some of the highest midterm voter turnout rates in the country. In 2014, 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, which was the second-highest percentage in the country, he said. That could indicate “a kind of ceiling that might limit how much higher turnout could go,” he said.
Alternatively, Burden pointed to a Marquette University Law School Poll indicating that 70 percent of respondents are “very” enthusiastic about voting this year, while 19 percent are “somewhat enthusiastic.” That is compared to 67 percent and 27 percent, respectively, in an October 2014 poll, Burden said.
“The extremely competitive governor’s race is (a) main factor that will boost voter turnout,” Burden said. “It has gotten a lot of attention. ... They are talking about issues such as health insurance and education funding that affect Wisconsinites’ daily lives. The more competitive nature of the governor’s race compared to 2014 and 2010 should help keep turnout high.”
Matt Rothschild, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said he is anticipating a spike in voter turnout Tuesday largely because the election will serve as a referendum on President Donald Trump, who is this year’s “X-factor.”
“Usually, people don’t go (vote) to celebrate something ... but to protest something they hate,” he said. “A lot of people on the progressive side are certainly sick and tired of getting kicked in the teeth by the same boot. A lot of people ... are eager to cast a vote against Donald Trump, and this is their opportunity to do that.”
In preparation for Tuesday, clerks have led training sessions for poll workers, collected absentee ballots—which are stored in individual envelopes and secured at clerks’ offices until they’re counted on Election Day—and prepped voters for new registration rules.
Stottler and Godek said they are not beefing up their polling staff but are largely keeping in step with typical midterm and presidential Election Day protocols, despite potentially higher voter turnout.
Stottler said she assigns workers based on the number of polling booths, not the number of anticipated voters.
“The work is the same whether one voter shows up or 10,000 show up,” she said.
Godek said more voters at the polls on Election Day likely will not slow down the voting process, but same-day registration could.
If a line of voters at a polling location slows, it likely will be because of a high number of same-day registrations. If that happens, Godek said, poll workers would be shifted from slower polling locations to accommodate the surge in registration.
“Basically what I’m hoping for with a busy Election Day is … somebody being out of the polling place in 15 minutes,” Godek said. “That’s a successful vote.”
Brent Bilodeau recalls a time in the 1980s when he felt isolated, alone and scared as a gay college student.
He never wants any student to experience what he did.
“It takes a horrible, horrible toll,” Bilodeau said.
Today, the 56-year-old is a driving force on the UW-Whitewater campus to make all students feel welcome, safe and included.
On Thursday, Nov. 8, he will receive the Dr. P.B. Poorman Award for work to improve the lives of LGBTQ students.
LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning.
Bilodeau is interim vice chancellor for student affairs and an enthusiastic member of the Chancellor’s Committee for LGBT Issues.
His passion lies in being part of a campus rich in diversity.
“It is education’s responsibility to unlock unlimited possibilities for students, all students,” he said.
Those who know Bilodeau say his infectious energy inspires colleagues.
“Dr. Bilodeau brings such an irrefutable amount of joy to this work of LGBTQ inclusion and access,” said Stephanie Selvick, the LGBTQ campus coordinator who nominated Bilodeau for the award.
Bilodeau has advocated for gender-inclusive policies, especially for transgender students.
One of those policies allows the student to be called by his or her preferred name.
“Transgender students may wish to be referred to by names that are different than the names they were given at birth,” he explained.
Often, birth names reflect gender. But transgender students might feel an internal sense of gender that is different from names assigned to them.
“A student’s birth name may be Margaret,” Bilodeau said. “But today the student may prefer to be called John, Mark or Oliver. When in that situation, we have worked to implement a policy that allows students to be referred to on campus by their preferred name.”
The change is important because a name is a reflection of identity.
“It is critical for students to feel supported and accepted for who they are,” Bilodeau said.
He also has been an advocate for increased access to single-stall bathrooms labeled all-gender.
His effort is in partnership with students, student organizations “and many offices on campus committed to many forms of diversity,” Bilodeau said. “So much of my work happens in partnership and in collaboration with others.”
Bilodeau’s commitment to equality comes at a time when hate crimes against LGBTQ people in the U.S. are rising.
Last year was the deadliest in recent history, according to the “Crisis of Hate” report released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. The report said at least 52 people were killed because of hate against LGBTQ people.
Of the total, at least 29 were transgender people. The number is the most recorded since the Human Rights Campaign began keeping death totals in 2013.
Bilodeau’s commitment to LGBTQ students stretches back almost 25 years.
Before coming to UW-Whitewater, he was the first LGBT coordinator at Michigan State University in 1994.
“I began to encounter transgender students for the first time,” he said. “I discovered there was no literature that talked about their development.”
He decided to focus his research on transgender development, LGBT student identity and college climate for transgender students.
“Education about transgender youth is new and so crucially important,” Bilodeau said.
Tom Rios worked with Bilodeau for 11 years and was his supervisor at UW-Whitewater until September 2017.
LGBTQ students “require us to think more fully about policies and services that are needed to help them have a sense of belonging to the university and to achieve their goals,” Rios said.
He added: “No one likes to be invisible. One’s identity is core to who they are.”
Bilodeau looks to students daily to find hope and what he calls “their purity of motive.”
“They are about doing what is right,” Bilodeau said. “It’s not about doing what is best for their careers. They want to do what is ethically right.”
He is impressed by what they say.
“I listen to them talk about their lives, their hopes, their dreams,” Bilodeau said. “I believe in them. They can do more than we can imagine possible.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email email@example.com.
Verdelma M. “Ver” Broderick
Joyce P. Deichsel
Robert D. Duncan
George E. Kuehne
Madelyn T. Lobbins
Diana L. Newman
Agustina “Lala” Rendon
Kenneth M. Schaid
Sherry A. Scheurell
Julie A. Schroeder
Barbara J. Smyer
Donald G. Vanden Noven
President Donald Trump has been acting like a candidate on the ballot this week, staging daily double-header rallies and blasting out ads for Republicans up for election on Tuesday. Given the stakes for his presidency, he might as well be.
A knot of investigations. Partisan gridlock. A warning shot for his re-election bid. Trump faces potentially debilitating fallout should Republicans lose control of one or both chambers in Congress, ending two years of GOP hegemony in Washington. A White House that has struggled to stay on course under favorable circumstances would be tested in dramatic ways. A president who often battles his own party, would face a far less forgiving opposition.
On the flip side, if Republicans maintain control of the House and Senate, that’s not only a victory for the GOP, but a validation of Trump’s brand of politics and his unconventional presidency. That result, considered less likely even within the White House, would embolden the president as he launches his own re-election bid.
White House aides insist the president doesn’t spend much time contemplating defeat, but he has begun to try to calibrate expectations. He has focused on the competitive Senate races the final days of his scorched-earth campaign blitz, and has distanced himself from blame should Republicans lose the House. If that happens, he intends to claim victory, arguing his efforts on the campaign trail narrowed GOP losses and helped them hold the Senate, according to a person familiar with Trump’s thinking who asked for anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss White House conversations by name.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has been tested out other explanations—pointing to historical headwinds for the party of an incumbent president and complaining about a rash of GOP retirements this year. He told the AP last month that he won’t bear any responsibility should Democrats take over.
At a rally in West Virginia Friday, a defiant Trump brushed off the prospect of a Democratic House takeover. “It could happen,” he said, adding “don’t worry about it. I’ll just figure it out.”
Meanwhile his staff has begun preparations to deal with a flood of subpoenas that could arrive next year from Democrat-controlled committees and the White House counsel’s office has been trying to attract seasoned lawyers to field oversight inquiries.
Should they take the House, Democrats are already plotting to reopen the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Other committees are plotting aggressive oversight of Trump’s administration and his web of business interests. Some Democrats are looking at using the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain copies of the president’s tax returns after he broke with decades of tradition and withheld them from public scrutiny during his campaign for the White House.
A slim Republican majority in the House would also present challenges, likely inflaming simmering intraparty disputes. First among them would be a potentially bitter leadership fight in the House to replace retiring Speaker Paul Ryan. But a narrowed majority would also exacerbate divisions over policy—and continued unified control could leave the GOP facing the blame for gridlock.
“Clearly, there’s an awful lot on the line in terms of the legislative agenda,” said Republican consultant Josh Holmes. “The prospect of a Democratic controlled House or Senate puts a serious wrinkle in getting anything through Congress.”
Some in the White House think losing to Democrats might actually be preferable. They view Democrats eagerness to investigate the president as a blessing in disguise in the run-up to 2020. They view House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as a potent foil for Trump, and believe they can tag the party responsibility for Washington dysfunction.
Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush’s press secretary, said Democratic control of the House “has both peril and promise for the president.”
“The peril is subpoenas, investigations, legal bills and headaches,” he said. “The promise is Trump will have an easy foil to run against: Pelosi and Democratic leadership.”
White House aides have discussed floating popular legislative issues, such as infrastructure, to tempt Democrats and test the unity of the Democratic opposition.
While keeping the House remained an uphill battle for the GOP, the in the closing days of the campaign, Trump and Republicans have tried to sell voters on the possibilities of another two years of GOP control. They promised hardline immigration policies and more tax cuts, arguing that Democrats would erase two years of progress.
In the closing weeks of the midterms, Trump has unleashed a no-holds-barred effort to boost Republicans as he dipped into the same undercurrents of unease that defined his 2016 campaign. From stoking fears about illegal immigration to warning of economic collapse if Democrats are victorious.
But a House loss will prompt GOP hand-wringing about the divides in the party and the struggles for moderate Republicans to run in the Trump, as well as raise questions about whether the Democratic gains point to a path for presidential hopefuls in 2020.
Democratic consultant Jim Manley said Tuesday may reveal if Democrats are having any success recapturing white working class voters in the Midwest who backed Trump in 2016.
“Trump is helping. He’s becoming more and more radioactive,” Manley said. “There’s a chance to try and win them back over.”
But while the results may reveal weaknesses in the Republican coalition, midterm elections are very different than presidential years. Republicans were quick to point out that the party in power typically suffers defeats in midterms. Former President Barack Obama was in his words “shellacked” in 2010 and went on to win re-election in 2012.
Said Fleischer: “In the aftermath people will exaggerate its meaning and in 2 years’ time everything will have changed.”