A night of high turnout and successful referendum questions

By Brandi Makuski

Heavy voter turnout kept Portage Co. firmly in blue wave territory with gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers beating out incumbent Scott Walker by a margin of 2,048 votes.

Statewide, the two were neck-in-neck until the race was called by the Associated Press in Evers’ favor at about 1:20 a.m. on Nov. 7, with Evers winning by 1.2 percent based on unofficial returns. As of 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Walker has not conceded the race.

Attorney General Brad Schimel lost his bid for reelection to Democrat Josh Kaul by a tally of 1,309,986 to 1,287,086.

Incumbent Tammy Baldwin kept her U.S. Senate seat from Republican challenger Leah Vukmir, 1,471,517 to 1,182,578 votes.

The Democrats also kept their stronghold locally, with Sheriff Mike Lukas and Clerk of Court Lisa Roth both emerging victorious from their unopposed races.

But most eyes were focused on a series of referendum questions on Tuesday’s ballot, which local clerks agreed was likely a driving force behind the higher-than-usual turnout.

A nonbinding question asking if Wisconsin should allow medical marijuana use was overwhelmingly approved by a tally of 28,129 in favor, 5,755 against. The measure is advisory to the state and does not make marijuana use legal.

Two questions asking voters for additional funds in the school district also passed, both overwhelmingly. The question to exceed the revenue limit by $3.5 million to sustain educational programming and operations was approved by a vote of 18,000 to 9,071; the second question, which asked permission to borrow $76 million for building and security upgrades, won by a landslide 18,345 to 8,484 votes.

“I’m very excited, it’s a big day for the schools,” said Superintendent Craig Gerlach via phone at about 11:30 pm. on Tuesday. “Quite frankly, I’m overwhelmed by all the public support, and very appreciative of the public stepping forward.”

School Board President Meg Erler was also in high spirits Tuesday night, calling the voter turnout “really overwhelming”.

Erler said after early returns began to indicate a 70 percent favorable vote, she and other board members began to discuss district accountability in how the funding would be spent.

“We absolutely intend to make regular reports to the taxpayers on where the money is going,” she said.

A referendum question asking voters to exceed revenue limits to pay for sustaining the Portage Co. Health Care Center also passed by a deep margin; 20,572 in favor, and 12,951 against. The approval gives county officials approval to increase the levy by $1.4 million annually over a period of four years to cover the health care center’s operating shortfalls until the county can create a long-term plan to sustain the facility.

A final referendum question, one asking the state to close loopholes in so-called “dark store” legislation that required municipalities to assess certain commercial properties at a substantial discount, shifting the tax burden to homeowners and small business owners, also passed by a wide margin of 26,684 to 5,919.

Voter turnout was high for all reporting precincts. City Clerk Paul Piotrowski said the city had just under 2,200 absentee ballots returned, and he personally spent about an hour on the UW-Stevens Point campus helping about 75 first-time voters register.

“I’d say we’ll see about 75 percent turnout,” Piotrowski said. Previous elections put the average voter turnout citywide at about 30 percent.

Plover saw an estimated 90 percent voter turnout on Tuesday. According to Village Clerk Karen Swanson the village had 7,002 registered voters before Tuesday; on Election Day the village registered about 700 more.

Just over 6,000 voters cast ballots on Nov. 6 by 7:45 p.m.

According to the Dept. of Administration, Swanson said, the village is home to about 10,000 eligible voters, based on information from the U.S. Census and Dept. of Motor Vehicles.

“So that’s about 70 percent of all eligible voters voted in this election,” she said. “So that’s really something.”

All election results are unofficial until next week’s canvassing committees verify returns.

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