Wisconsin Primary - History

Wisconsin Primary - History

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Dixie North: George Wallace and the 1964 Wisconsin Presidential Primary

This was an odd sentiment, coming from a confirmed Son of Dixie and ardent segregationist, but Wallace was merely returning the love shown to him by Milwaukee ’s Southside and voters across Wisconsin . As Wallace made this statement, he had just tallied a shocking 34% of the Democratic vote in Wisconsin ’s 1964 presidential primary. As the 2016 presidential campaign has been thus-far defined by a certain tiny-fingered pseudo-candidate’s bombastic and often-inflammatory rhetoric, it seems appropriate to take a look back at one of the most notable presidential primary votes in state history and an ugly campaign event on Milwaukee ’s Southside.

State presidential primary elections were far different affairs in 1964 than they are today. On the Democratic side, only 16 states actually held a vote that year, leaving the rest of the party’s delegates to be assigned at state conventions or at the national nominating convention in Atlantic City , NJ . This was all considered moot, however, as President Lyndon Johnson’s nomination was never in doubt and Johnson himself did no actual campaigning. The Democratic primary was expected to be of little importance.

Wallace’s literal stand against forced integration in 1963 made his a national figure in the ongoing Civil Rights battle.

That is until Alabama Governor George Wallace threw his hat into the ring. Wallace had gained national prominence with his election as governor in 1962, running on a hard-line segregationist platform. In September 1963, he made his infamous “stand in the schoolhouse door” at the University of Alabama to oppose a federal court order to integrate the school. In early 1964, Wallace made a number of speaking engagements in the north, including one in Madison on February 19. It was in Madison that Wallace learned that Wisconsin required only sixty state residents to agree to act as delegates in order to secure a candidate’s name on a presidential primary ballot. The delegates came together in just a few weeks and on March 6 – the deadline for filing as a candidate, Wallace flew to Madison personally to declare his candidacy. Tensions over the announcement were so high that Wallace filed his paperwork accompanied by two armed bodyguards. The vote was just over a month away.


Wisconsin was the only state that voted on April 7, 2020, in the Democratic primaries. [3]

Voting took place throughout the state from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. In the open primary, candidates must meet a threshold of 15% at the congressional district or statewide level in order to be considered viable. The 84 pledged delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention will be allocated proportionally on the basis of the results of the primary. Of the 77 pledged delegates, between 5 and 11 are allocated to each of the state's 8 congressional districts and another 10 are allocated to party leaders and elected officials (PLEO delegates), in addition to 29 at-large pledged delegates. These delegate totals do not account for pledged delegate bonuses or penalties from timing or clustering. [4]

On Sunday, April 26, 2020, county caucuses will select delegates for congressional district caucuses which will take place on Sunday, May 17, 2020, which in turn designate national convention district-level delegates. The administrative committee meeting before the state convention will subsequently be on Friday, June 12, 2020, to vote on the 29 pledged at-large and 10 PLEO delegates to send to the Democratic National Convention. The 77 pledged delegates Wisconsin sends to the national convention will be joined by 13 unpledged PLEO delegates (eight members of the Democratic National Committee four members of Congress, including one Senator and 3 U.S. Representatives and the governor). [4]

COVID-19 pandemic Edit

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, several states delayed their scheduled primaries and extended the vote-by-mail period. Concerns were raised by health officials, poll workers, and voters that in-person voting at the height of the pandemic would be unsafe for vulnerable individuals. [5] Governor Tony Evers (D) signed an executive order for all-mail-in election, but the order was rejected by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature. [6]

On April 2, although U.S. District Judge William M. Conley refused to postpone the election, he extended the deadline for absentee voting to April 13 (ordering clerks not to release any election data before that date). [7] [8] However, on April 6, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Conley's decision, meaning that all absentee ballots must still be postmarked by "election day, Tuesday, April 7" even though it will still be acceptable for the ballots to be received by the clerks as late as April 13. [9] [10] The Supreme Court of the United States "did not alter the provision in Conley's amended order which prohibits the reporting of results until April 13". [11]

Governor Evers then called a special session of the legislature to postpone in-person voting, but the session ended within minutes without action, forcing the primary to go on as planned. [12]

Despite having previously expressed the view that he would violate the law by doing so, [13] on April 6, Evers issued an executive order which, if enforced, would have postponed the April 7 elections until the tentative date of June 9. [14] [15] Republican leaders immediately announced that they would challenge the order in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. [14] The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Evers did not have the authority to postpone the elections, thus meaning that Evers' executive order was nullified, and that the elections would be held as scheduled on April 7. [16]

This was appealed to a federal court who sided with the Governor, and that was appealed to the US Supreme Court, which on a 5–4 vote, upheld the State court's ruling. [17]

Voting was somewhat chaotic, with people waiting in the rain for hours in some cases in masks and social distancing. [18] However, by the time the election concluded, Milwaukee Election Commissioner Neil Albrecht stated that despite some of the problems, the in-person voting ran smoothly. [19]

Milwaukee-area legislative seats

In addition to other primary races throughout the state, the following legislative seats are holding partisan primaries in the Milwaukee area:

Senate District 6: Democratic incumbent LaTonya Johnson faces a challenge from Michelle Bryant, the chief of staff for state Sen. Lena Taylor.

The winner will face Republican candidate Alciro Deacon in the fall. The district covers parts of Milwaukee's north and west sides.

Senate District 28: Five Republicans are running to succeed incumbent Dave Craig, who is not running for reelection. The GOP challengers are leadership trainer Steve Bobowski, attorney Dan Griffin, Army veteran and businessman Jim Engstrand, businessman and former La Crosse County Republican Party Chairman Julian Bradley and attorney Marina Croft.

The Aug. 11 winner will face Democratic candidate and businessman Adam Murphy in the general election. The district includes parts of southern Waukesha and Milwaukee counties.

Assembly District 8: Both parties are running primaries to see who will vie to replace outgoing Democratic incumbent JoCasta Zamarripa on the near south side district. Zamarripa was elected to the Milwaukee Common Council in April.

In the Democratic primary, Milwaukee County Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez is running against community organizer Joanna Bautch. In the Republican race, Marine veteran and nonprofit founder Ruben Velez will face businessman Angel Sanchez.

Assembly District 9: Democratic incumbent Marissa Cabarera is facing Christian Saldivar in the primary the winner face Republican candidate and medical interpreter Veronica Diaz in the fall in the south side district.

Assembly District 11: Democratic incumbent Jason Fields, who ran unsuccessfully for Milwaukee city comptroller in April, is not running for reelection and there is a four-way primary to replace him. The candidates are community advocate Curtis Cook II, nonprofit member services coordinator Dora Drake, Glendale Ald. Tomika Vukovic and businessman Carl Gates. They are vying to face Republican candidate Orlando Owens in the general election. The district includes parts of northern Milwaukee County.

Assembly District 14: Republicans have a three-way primary to pick a challenger to Democratic incumbent Robyn Vining. The candidates are church outreach director Bonnie Lee, electrician Steven Shevey and former special education teacher Linda Boucher.

The district spans parts of Waukesha and Milwaukee counties and includes Brookfield and Wauwatosa

Assembly District 17: Three Democrats — teacher and veteran Mike Brox, Milwaukee County Supervisor Supreme Moore Omokunde and Democratic Party of Milwaukee County Chair Chris Walton — are running in the primary to face Republican candidate Abie Eisenbach. The seat, representing parts of Milwaukee's west side was held by David Crowley, who was elected Milwaukee County executive in April.

Assembly District 60: Republican incumbent Robert Brooks faces a primary challenge from health care consultant and former Cedarburg City Council member Chris Reimer. There are no Democrats on the ballot. The district includes parts of Ozaukee and Washington counties.

Assembly District 82: Republican incumbent Ken Skowronski faces a primary challenge from attorney Theodore Kafkas in the district covering parts of southwestern Milwaukee County including Greendale and Franklin.

The Democratic primary in the district pits recent Yale graduate Jacob Malinowski and businessman Paul McCreary.

Absentee voting

All voters are eligible to vote absentee in Wisconsin. There are no special eligibility requirements for voting absentee. ⎛]

To vote absentee, an application must be received by the municipal clerk no later than 5 p.m. on the Thursday before Election Day. If mailed through the U.S. Postal Service, a returned absentee ballot "must be postmarked no later than Election Day and received by the municipal clerk no later than 4 p.m. on the Friday after the election." For other means of delivery, the completed ballot must be "delivered to the municipal clerk no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day." ⎛]

To help your students analyze these primary sources, get a graphic organizer and guides: Analysis Tool and Guides

The Wisconsin Territory was formed in 1836 and was admitted into the Union as the 30th state in 1848. The primary sources in this set document key moments in the state’s story, and provide opportunities for students to explore that rich history further.

Use the question sets and analysis tool to deepen student engagement and thinking about these compelling, imperfect objects. Select questions such as:

  • What do you see?
  • Why do you think this item was made?
  • What do you wonder about this item?

Or extend student learning by asking them to write a caption for the item, imagine what happened an hour before or after what the item portrays, or expand a textbook or other secondary account of history to include the item.

These primary sources can raise further questions about the time, place, or events from which they emerged, and can prompt students to further investigation of the state’s history.

1968: Paul Newman for president


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In some presidential elections, there are candidates who really bring out the star power. In 1968, that was Eugene McCarthy, a Minnesota senator who challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson. Fueled by McCarthy's stand against the Vietnam War, his campaign attracted some of Hollywood's best and brightest stars — some of whom came to Wisconsin to rally voters.

The main attraction was actor Paul Newman, who made a dozen stops around the state speaking on behalf of McCarthy and drawing huge crowds wherever he went.

Not that the voters were confused about why they were there: "What do you like about McCarthy?" a Milwaukee Journal reporter asked a woman at a Newman appearance on Mitchell Street.

"Paul Newman," she answered "as she pretended to sink to her knees."

McCarthy handily won in Wisconsin, though it had as much to do with Johnson announcing days before the primary vote that he was not seeking re-election, and that McCarthy's other rivals (Robert Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey) were not on the ballot in the state.


In general, there are two broad criteria by which primary elections can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction:

  1. Terms of participation: In jurisdictions that conduct partisan primaries, who can vote in a party's primary? Is participation limited to registered party members, or can other eligible voters (such as unaffiliated voters or voters belonging to other parties) participate? In general, there are three basic types of primary election participation models: open primaries, closed primaries, and semi-closed primaries.
  2. Methods for determining the election's outcome: What share of the total votes cast does a candidate have to receive in order to advance to the general election? Methods for determining primary election outcomes include plurality voting systems, majority voting systems, and top-two primaries.

For more complete information on these criteria, click "[Show more]" below.

Terms of participation

The terms of participation in primary elections vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (and, sometimes, within a jurisdiction different political parties may enforce different participation criteria). In general, there are three basic primary election participation models used in the United States:

  1. Open primaries: An open primary is any primary election in which a voter either does not have to formally affiliate with a political party in order to vote in its primary or can declare his or her affiliation with a party at the polls on the day of the primary even if the voter was previously affiliated with a different party. Ώ]ΐ]
  2. Closed primaries: A closed primary is any primary election in which a voter must affiliate formally with a political party in advance in order to participate in that party's primary. Ώ]ΐ]
  3. Semi-closed primaries: A semi-closed primary is one in which previously unaffiliated voters can participate in the primary of their choosing. Voters who previously affiliated with a political party who did not change their affiliations in advance cannot vote in another party's primary. Ώ]ΐ]

Methods for determining the election's outcome

Methods for tallying votes to determine a primary election's outcome include the following:

  1. Plurality voting system: In plurality systems, the candidate who wins the largest share of the vote wins the election. The candidate need not win an outright majority to be elected. These systems are sometimes referred to as first-past-the-post or winner-take-all. Α]Β]
  2. Majority voting system: In majority systems, a candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote in order to win the election. In the event that no candidate wins an outright majority, a runoff election is held between the top two vote-getters. For this reason, majority systems are sometimes referred to as two-round systems. Ranked-choice voting is a specific type of majority voting system that may also be used in primary elections. Α]Β]
  3. Top-two primaries: A top-two primary is one in which all candidates are listed on the same primary election ballot the top two vote-getters, regardless of their partisan affiliations, advance to the general election. Consequently, it is possible that two candidates belonging to the same political party could win in a top-two primary and face off in the general election. A top-two primary should not be confused with a blanket primary. In a blanket primary, all candidates are listed on the same primary ballot the top vote-getter from each party participating in the primary advances to the general election. ΐ]Γ]Δ]

Why Wisconsin’s Presidential Primary Matters

It’s a classic swing state that has usually voted for the winner.

Bernie Sanders. Photo courtesy of Bernie 2016.

“Given the election laws of Wisconsin, any kook – and I consider him a kook – can cause trouble. This man is being supported by extreme right-wing elements who are probably kookier than he is.”

Hint: It has nothing to do with what some Republican and Democratic leaders have said about billionaire business executive Donald Trump, the leading candidate to become the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.

Answer: In 1964, then-Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman J. Louis Hanson said that about Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who had decided to enter the state’s April Democratic presidential primary. Hanson’s quote is in Stephan Lesher’s 1994 book, George Wallace: American Populist.

That Wisconsin showing encouraged the Alabama governor, who had doubted he could do well in a Midwest state, to run a national campaign for president. Wallace’s strong primary vote also “effectively ended” the political career of Reynolds, Lesher wrote. LBJ was re-elected in November 1964, however.

On April 5, will presidential primary voters again surprise candidates, politicians nationally and pundits? Will many Wisconsin Democrats “feel the Bern” in next week Tuesday’s election, giving Bernie Sanders a boost against Hillary Clinton? And, will Ohio Gov. John Kasich and his chief Wisconsin cheerleader, former Gov. Tommy Thompson, build any anti-Trump firewall here?

Wisconsin has often been an important — and unpredictable — state in presidential primaries. Eight days before Wisconsin’s presidential primaries is a perfect time for a history lesson. Let’s look at the last 44 years of Wisconsin presidential primary results:

2012: Republicans – Statewide, Mitt Romney got 44% Rick Santorum, 36% Ron Paul, 11% Newt Gingrich, 5%. In Milwaukee County, Romney got 51% Santorum, 31%, and Paul, 10%. President Barack Obama won the Democratic primary.

2008: Democrats – Obama, 58% Hillary Clinton, 41%. Republicans – John McCain, 54% Mike Huckabee, 37% Mitt Romney, 4%.

2004: Democrats – John Kerry, 39% John Edwards, 34% Howard Dean, 18% Dennis Kucinich, 3%. President George W. Bush won the GOP primary.

2000: Democrats – Al Gore, 88% Bill Bradley, 8%. Republicans – George W. Bush, 69% McCain, 18% Alan Keyes, 10%.

1996: Republicans – Bob Dole, 52% Pat Buchanan, 33% Steve Forbes, 5%. President Bill Clinton won the Democratic primary.

1992: Republicans – George H.W. Bush, 75% Pat Buchanan, 16%. Democrats – Bill Clinton, 37% Jerry Brown, 34% Paul Tsongas, 21%.

1988: Democrats – Michael Dukakis, 47% Jesse Jackson, 28% Gore, 17% Paul Simon, 4%. Republicans – George H.W. Bush, 82% Pat Robertson, 7%.

1984: Democrats – Gary Hart, 44% Walter Mondale, 41% Jesse Jackson, 1%. President Ronald Reagan won Republican primary.

1980: Republicans – Reagan, 40% George H.W. Bush, 30% John Anderson, 24%. Democrats – Jimmy Carter, 56% Ted Kennedy, 30% Jerry Brown, 11%.

1976: Democrats – Carter, 36% Mo Udall, 35% Wallace, 12% Henry Jackson, 6%. Republicans – Gerald Ford, 55% Reagan, 44%.

1972: Democrats – George McGovern, 29% Wallace, 22% Hubert Humphrey, 20% Ed Muskie, 10% Henry Jackson, 7% John Lindsay, 6%. President Richard Nixon won the Republican primary.

1968: Republicans – Nixon, 79% Reagan, 10% Harold Stassen, 5%. Democrats – McCarthy, 56% President Johnson, 34% Robert F. Kennedy, 6%.

“Wisconsin primary voters do an especially good job at landing on the eventual nominees,” says UW-Madison Political Science Professor Barry Burden.

“There are probably two reasons for this,” Burden added. “One is that Wisconsin has been a fairly representative state in terms of the demographics of its voters. The other reason is that the Wisconsin primary has often been about midway into the nomination calendar – just far enough forward to be consequential but far enough back to have only a few options to choose from.”

But Dave Wegge, a St. Norbert University political science professor, says it’s too easy to conclude that Wisconsin primary voters have “predictive powers.” When Wisconsin votes in April, Wegge notes, “Voters who were supporting one of the candidates, who they knew at this point was going to lose, may have decided to stay home and not vote unless there was a hotly contested Supreme Court race on the ballot.”

“With the exception of 2004 and 2008 [February primaries]… Wisconsin voters often have known who their party’s nominee was going to be by the time the Wisconsin primary rolled around,” Wegge adds.

State officials expect a very high turnout, about 40% of voters, on April 5. But, since the preferences of Wisconsin voters may matter once more, that could be low.

More to the story in Wisconsin 2020

The coronavirus pandemic and its devastating economic fallout are two major issues that have an impact on the election. NBC News is tracking and updating daily the number of coronavirus related deaths in each state and U.S. territory, as well as the jobless claims as reported weekly by the Department of Labor that counts how many people have filed for unemployment benefits.

Coronavirus Cases

Ongoing Jobless Claims

The expected vote is the total number of votes that are expected in a given race once all votes are counted. This number is an estimate and is based on several different factors, including information on the number of votes cast early as well as information provided to our vote reporters on Election Day from county election officials. The figure can change as NBC News gathers new information.

Watch the video: AFP - Wisconsin GOP. Senate Primary Debate


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