You may have heard there was a statewide election last night, and the results appeared as follows.
Michael Screnock 247,480 (46.3%)
Rebecca Dallett 191,155 (35.8%)
Tim Burns 95,422 (17.9%)
Since there ended up being no real definitive result beyond “one GOP, one non-GOP advance, and no one with a majority”, and that the percentages were basically in line with a toss-up going into the General Election. What do we take from this? Let’s look into turnout and the results in various parts of the state to see if there are any tea leaves to read.
First of all, turnout was historically decent for a February primary,
but slightly less than what we saw in 2016 Supreme Court primary.
With all precincts reporting, 534,057 votes were cast in the statewide primary, according to unofficial returns collected by The Associated Press. That’s about 12 percent.
In 2016, 567,038 cast ballots in the February Supreme Court primary. That’s about 12.7 percent of the more than 4.4 million voting-age adults living in Wisconsin at the time.
I was counting on more turnout than that. A reason I overestimated the statewide enthusiasm for this race is because Dane County both turned out and turned against Screnock in big numbers. Screnock was a distant third in Dane County, as he barely exceeded 17%, with Dallett getting more than 3 times as many votes (52%), and even Burns beat Screnock by 10,000 votes in Dane County. The county nearly doubled the statewide turnout rate of 12.7%, and had 4,300 more votes than our already-strong numbers in the 2016 Supreme Court primary, a 6% increase.
So what happened in the rest of Wisconsin? Some of the dropoff in turnout seems to be related to the fact that there were 13 school referendum questions in 11 districts February 2016 (according to the Department of Public Instruction’s tracker)
compared to 5 in 3 districts yesterday. All 5 passed by the way, including nearly $59 million in Sussex for the construction and ongoing cost of a new Intermediate School, as well as additions to their high school.
On the flip side, that referendum may also explain some of the boost in turnout in Waukesha County, since it looks like 7,700 people who voted on that Sussex Hamilton school referendum, vs around 2,000 in that district that voted in the last contested Supreme Court primary in 2016 (click here for the ward-by-ward records for 2016).
But even if you take out that referendum-related bump, Waukesha County still added about another 8,000 voters compared to 2016, and 14,000 overall. Many of those added votes went to Screnock, as the WMC/NRA front man got about 8,400 more voters than Bigoted Becky Bradley did in 2016.
The turnout in Waukesha and other pro-GOP counties that border Milwaukee were the key in Screnock reaching 46%. Ozaukee County had 2,800 more voters than they did in February 2016 (an increase of more than 20%), and Screnock grabbed 1,400 of those votes. Likewise, Washington County added 900 voters, with Screnock pulling 1,300 more votes than Bradley, and Racine County got 1,600 more voters than 2016, with Screnock getting 1,400 of those votes.
So to the RW media and front groups that were charged with scaring up the sheep in the 262 into making sure Screnock advanced, you did a good job. The rest of the state, not so much, as shown by the colors on the Wisconsin map in this tweet. Notice the dark red in the 262 compared to the rest of the state.
The Milwaukee County totals are concerning, not necessarily due to the percentages (Dallett and Burns combined for 62.8%, Screnock 37.2%), but because the turnout was dreadful - less than 82,000 votes vs more than 110,000 in February 2016. Worse, less than half of the county's turnout was in the City of Milwaukee,
when turnout in the city is usually 25-50% above the rest of the County in November elections. Now, the drop of more than 30,000 votes is likely related to no primaries for Mayor or County Executive like there were in 2016, but the burbs didn’t see any notable drop in turnout vs 2016.
Also interesting is that Screnock only beat Dallett by 1,600 votes in the Milwaukee County burbs, while Bradley surpassed JoAnne Kloppenburg by 5,800 in February 2016. And when you throw in the 3rd-place candidate in both races, the numbers are basically the same for GOP vs non-GOP for those years. This identifies both a concern if you like Dallett (low turnout and performance in her backyard), but also an opportunity, if turnout can pick up in the pro-Dem City of Milwaukee.
Dane County and the 5-county Miller Park tax district accounted for just over half of the state’s votes yesterday. In the other half of the state, the two non-GOP candidates got 51% of the vote, and Screnock 49%. The items of note from the non-Madison/Milwaukee areas are as follows.
You really saw turnout nosedive vs 2016 in much of rural Wisconsin, especially up North. Some of that might be related to the fewer amount of referenda, and quite a bit was likely related to the brutal weather. Nearly a foot of snow was dumped near Lake Superior in the 48 hours before the election,
and many schools were closed in the state north of Madison and Milwaukee due to freezing rain and snow.
Interestingly, the far North included the 2 counties that Burns won- Ashland and Bayfield. Burns also got more votes than Dallett in Sawyer and Washburn Counties. As noted in the dark blue in the small map above, Screnock often failed to reach 40% of the vote in many counties in the western half of the state.
The Fox Valley largely mirrored the rest of the state, although turnout patterns varied. Brown County had 2,000 fewer votes than 2016, but Screnock only lost 600 of those votes vs Bradley’s total, so he ended up just below 50% there. On the flip side, Outagamie County had 1,100 more votes, and Screnock picked up less than 400, and barely exceeded what he got statewide 46.7%. Winnebago County had a sizable drop in turnout of 2,300, but Screnock only lost 800 of those votes, so he pulled a decent 48% in that county.
Dallett outright won several counties with mid-size cities, including La Crosse, Eau Claire, Portage (Stevens Point) and Rock (Janesville/Beloit). Screnock was in the low-to-mid 30s in many of these areas. On the other hand, counties like Sheboygan, Manitowoc and Fond du Lac went heavily for Screnock. All of these areas had turnout in line or below 2016 levels (outside of Rock County, who had a nice increase).
Bottom line, low turnout kept that from happening in much of the state, and the only areas that had sizable increases in turnout were the power bases for both parties (Dane County for Dems, the 262 for Republicans). The notable exception to that was the low turnout in the City of Milwaukee, which will be one of the subplots to follow for the Main Event in April. There is also a question if the GOP shot its wad having to spend big money just to make sure Screnock even qualified for the General Election, and won't get as much of a turnout boost for April.
Now sure, there will be plenty of money out there from the WMC oligarchs, the NRA, and the fundies, but Dems/left groups really didn’t have to spend anything themselves for February. And if the GOP dark money advantage can be blunted, or (as Dallett herself hinted last night)
can be turned into a liability, then chances are good that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will take a step back toward decency and balance.
Guess we’ll have to wait and see. This one low-turnout race indicates the state of play hasn't changed as much as we might have thought when Democrat Patty Schachtner won a Senate seat in a pro-Trump district last month.
But I guess that means it’s time to push it for the next 41 days to keep the momentum going.