06/05/2012 07:56 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2012

Wisconsin Recall: 'Overwhelming' Turnout Reported At Polling Places

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: