What to know before heading to the polls for Tuesday’s partisan primary

Michael Lisowski , a chief poll worker, sets up a voting booth in preparation for Tuesday's primary election at the Milwaukee Public Library branch on West Atkinson Avenue on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020.

MADISON – With another Wisconsin election happening in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, voters should plan ahead as much as possible before heading to the polls on Tuesday.

Just four months after Wisconsin’s controversial April 7 election — which saw long lines, a lack of poll workers and little social distancing — Tuesday’s primary will determine who of each party’s candidates will be on the ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters can find their polling location at myvote.wi.gov. In some cases, polling places have changed because of the pandemic. 

Around 170 polling locations in Milwaukee will be operational on Tuesday, which is approximately 95% of the total sites in the city, according to the Milwaukee Election Commission. It’s a stark contrast to the five that were open for the April election. 

On the ballot are primaries in five congressional races and numerous Milwaukee-area legislative seats. For an in-depth look at each race on Tuesday’s ticket, check out the Journal Sentinel’s voter guide.

Races to watch

Democrats Josh Pade and Roger Polack are both hoping to flip Congressional District 1, the region once represented by former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. The winner will face unopposed Republican incumbent Bryan Steil in the general election. 

Two Milwaukee residents, Republicans Tim Rogers and businesswoman Cindy Werner, are vying for Democratic incumbent Gwen Moore’s seat in Congressional District 4, which contains the city of Milwaukee.

And longtime Republican state Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald will battle fellow Republican Cliff DeTemple for a seat in Congress representing Congressional District 5 in suburban Milwaukee. The winner will face Democrat Tom Palzewicz for the seat being given up by retiring GOP incumbent Jim Sensenbrenner.

In an area state Senate race, Democratic incumbent LaTonya Johnson faces a challenge from Michelle Bryant, the chief of staff for state Sen. Lena Taylor, to preside over Senate District 6, covering parts of Milwaukee’s north and west sides.

And in the suburbs, five Republicans are vying for Senate District 28 to replace outgoing GOP state Sen. David Craig. There are also several area Assembly primaries in the Milwaukee area on Tuesday’s ticket.

Changes since the April primary

Turnout is typically low for an August primary — between 15 and 20% — compared to the 70% who show up to a to vote in a November presidential election, according to Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Currie Golf Course golf starter Patrick Niederjohn stands in a polling location that is set up with plexiglass to protect voters and poll workers at Currie Golf Course on North Mayfair Road in Wauwatosa on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020.

A number of changes have been made to make voting as safe as possible, even if turnout is high.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said he would call up the Wisconsin National Guard to help run the primary because of a shortage of about 900 poll workers. The commission has also provided clerks with sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment.

“We’ve done an awful lot after the April election,” Magney said. “It started with an honest and thorough evaluation of what went right and what went wrong.”

Other basics to know

While some voters will be heading to the polls, many have already received absentee ballots via mail because of the pandemic.

To be counted, absentee ballots must be in the hands of poll workers by 8 p.m. Tuesday. Those who haven’t returned an absentee ballot by mail or to an in-person absentee site should consider dropping it off at a polling place or clerk’s office, said Maggie McClain, a Madison municipal clerk.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission last week unanimously recommended that anyone voting in person wear a mask at the polls, though they are not required to do so. Voters may be asked to momentarily lower their face masks so poll workers can verify their identity when checking photo IDs.

“We are asking voters to observe social distancing inside and outside of polling places, and not to create disturbances about the wearing or not wearing of masks or face coverings,” said Meagan Wolfe, the executive director of the Elections Commission.

Contact Allison Garfield at agarfield@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @aligarfield_.