MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsinites came out in droves on Tuesday to vote in the recall election, with long lines at polling places, large numbers of new voters and reports of turnout near the level of the 2008 presidential election.
"Overwhelming," replied the chief elections inspector at the the polling place for Milwaukee wards 121 and 122, when asked what turnout was like on Tuesday afternoon.
As of 5:13 p.m. Central time, 1,054 people had voted at the Clinton Rose Senior Center in a primarily African American section of northern Milwaukee -- an area that Democrats said they hope will turn out heavily in support of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D), challenging Gov. Scott Walker (R). The chief elections inspector said she estimated the number of voters to be more than the 2008 presidential election.
The longest line at the polling place was for voters who needed to register, either because they had changed addresses or were first-time voters.
Every time a first-time voter registered, a poll worker would shout, "First-time voter!" followed by cheers from the crowd.
Aide Cano, 39, one was one of those first-time voters. She pulled the lever for Barrett, telling The Huffington Post that the election was "very important" to her because she is a public employee who works for the county. Cano received a ride to the polls by a volunteer with JobsNow, who said he had driven 10 people to vote on Tuesday.
Walker earned the ire of many public workers last year, when he pushed through a bill that stripped most collective bargaining rights from public workers. Now he, his lieutenant governor and three GOP state senators are fighting to hold on to their seats in recall elections. Another GOP state senator resigned a few months ago, when it became clear she also would face the recall process. That seat is now vacant, with Democrats and Republicans fighting to gain control of it in Tuesday's election.
The state elections board predicted turnout to be at 60 percent to 65 percent, near the level of presidential elections. In other words, nearly 3 million Wisconsinites could turn out to vote on Tuesday.
At the nearby polling place in wards 123 and 124 in northern Milwaukee, the atmosphere was equally busy. The line was long to register to vote, and as of 4:40 p.m., 890 people had cast ballots. The were so many people that workers ran out of the classic "I Voted" stickers, much to the disappointment of one man who came up and asked for one after he did his civic duty.
The chief elections inspector for those wards said that more than 260 people had registered to vote -- an extremely high number -- and characterized Tuesday's turnout as "crazy."
In another predominantly African American area of northern Milwaukee, 402 people had voted as of 3 p.m. Nearly half of those showing up were registering. The chief elections inspector there also said it was "a lot" of voters for a non-presidential race, noting that sometimes, only 100 people show up to cast ballots.
Elsewhere in the state, reports of turnout were equally high. Dane County Clerk Karen Peters said turnout in the Madison area was "just wild," predicting it could hit up to 80 percent to 88 percent of the population.
Patch reported that in the Milwaukee suburbs, turnout appeared to be higher than the expected 60 percent to 65 percent range.
Election officials in the city of Racine, a Democratic stronghold, had to ask neighboring villages for extra ballots. With turnout higher than expected, officials realized they could run out of ballots and quickly worked to find a solution.
The day was not without its problems. Election Protection, a nonpartisan voter protection group, said it received 594 calls as of 1 p.m., including "polling place inquiries, questions about residency requirements needed for Election Day registration, poll workers improperly asking voters to present ID in order to vote, and deceptive robocalls suggesting voters that who signed petitions or voted in earlier elections did not have to vote today."
Below, more on the history of the Walker recall effort:
In 2010, a surge of Tea Party momentum and backlash against Democrats helped elect conservatives including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who became the state's first Republican governor since 2002. Walker promised to cut taxes and create 250,000 new jobs, but a deeper look into his past also showed a politician who had inflamed tensions with unions before. The Washington Post reports on his time as Milwaukee County Executive, during which the collective bargaining rights of unions already appeared to be one of his most ambitious targets: During his eight-year tenure in Milwaukee County, Walker never raised property taxes. He cut the county workforce by 20 percent, improved its bond rating and gave back hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own salary as part of the effort to trim spending. But he also saw his relations with local unions deteriorate. Union leaders say Walker never negotiated in good faith and had a singular solution to every budget problem: cut. Under his watch, the county privatized public jobs, laid off workers and placed others on furlough. [...] Walker argued that collective bargaining was the biggest hurdle to balancing the budget and that unions had little incentive to give ground because they almost always prevailed in arbitration. He said that the cuts he proposed were intended to prevent layoffs and accused union leaders of being uninterested in compromise.
After taking office, Walker announced a number of controversial proposals, including eliminating collective bargaining rights for state employees and reducing public employee benefits, as part of a "budget repair bill." He said the reforms were necessary to prevent the layoffs of thousands of workers. Facing anger from unions, Walker announced his readiness to mobilize the state's National Guard in response to any disruptions. The announcement was met with backlash by public sector workers across the state.
The fight over Walker's proposed budget was contentious, with Wisconsin Democratic state senators crossing state lines to Rockford, Ill. in an attempt to stall the vote. In March 2011, Walker signed the budget, significantly curtailing collective bargaining rights for union-affiliated public employees. Thousands of protesters gathered in Madison, and labor leaders and Democrats vowed to fight back.
In the months following his signing of the bill, Walker's opponents organized, announcing their intentions to recall the governor and his supporters. They erected a tent city and believed they'd won a surprise victory over a conservative state supreme court judge, before amended voting totals from one county reversed the victory. Walker continued to defend his policy but said he had made mistakes in the political execution. Correction: A previous version of this text inaccurately stated the final results of the Supreme Court race.
Wisconsin Democrats scored a victory in their attempt to unseat Republican state legislators when they defeated six "fake" Democrats running in the party's primaries. Four of the six Republicans targeted for recall held onto their seats in the general election.
Petitions to recall Walker and his lieutenant governor gathered nearly a million signatures each, far exceeding the 500,000 needed. Election officials ordered a recall election.
Democratic candidates are now fighting for the chance to face Walker in the recall election. Amanda Terkel reports: Recalling a sitting governor is no easy task; it's been done just twice in U.S. history. But while Republicans are amassing money and ground support in the next few months to fend off the opposition, Democrats are still figuring out who among them will be the strongest candidate to run against the governor. The process is pitting traditional allies against each other, as the candidates try to show off their pro-labor credentials while also making the case that they are best equipped to beat Walker in the general election. There are currently four Democratic candidates competing in the May primary. Former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are considered the two frontrunners, with state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) and Secretary of State Doug La Follette also in the race.
After a tough primary, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett bested three other Democratic candidates in an early May primary. HuffPost's Amanda Terkel reports: Barrett beat former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) in the Democratic primary. The Associated Press called the race for Barrett shortly before 10 p.m. Eastern time. Barrett's victory set up a rematch with Gov. Walker, who he lost to by about 5 percentage points in 2010.
HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal reports: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) holds a narrow lead over his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, in the run up to Tuesday's recall election, according to the final poll on the race conducted by Public Policy Polling, a firm affiliated with the Democratic Party. PPP's automated, recorded-voice survey, conducted among 1,226 likely voters over the weekend, puts Walker at 50 percent support, 3 percentage points ahead of Barrett's 47 percent. Fifteen surveys on the recall election have been released over the past month, and while most have produced close results, all but one have given Walker the advantage. Independent polls have generally given Walker a bigger lead than the handful of publicly released internal polls sponsored by the Barrett campaign or its Democratic allies.
After a whirlwind day of voting that featured swarmed polling places around the state, media outlets called the race for Walker less than an hour after polls closed in the Badger State. Walker's lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, was also declared victorious in her recall contest.