Voters swamped polling stations across the state as both sides claim the surge is good news in vote to recall the governor
-By Rory Carroll in Appleton and Gary Younge in Milwaukee
June 5, 2012- Reports of stratospheric turnout in Wisconsin's recall election on Tuesday boosted Democrat hopes of victory in the vote to topple Republican governor Scott Walker.
Voters swamped polling stations across the state in what appeared to be a significantly higher turnout than 2010 when Walker defeated Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee now vying to replace him.
Local radio reported that parts of Madison, the state capital and a Democratic bastion, recorded turnout of 119% of previously registered voters by 4pm, with four hours of polling still to go. The extraordinary figure was attributed to a late surge in registrations by union and grassroots activists, taking the voter roll far above its previous levels.
However Republican districts, notably the suburbs of Milwaukee, also turned out heavily, reassuring GOP activists that the surge would benefit Walker and confound conventional wisdom that high participation benefits Democrats.
"A high turnout is good for our side," said Brendan Smith, an activist at Republican campaign headquarters in Appleton. "At least we like to think so. In any case we'll be campaigning till the last minute." At mid-afternoon Barrett said he was encouraged by turnout but emphasized the result hung in the balance. "This thing isn't over until 8.01."
Analysts cautioned that early turnout figures did not augur victory for either side but Democrats could not restrain giddiness that perhaps they would defy pre-election polls which showed them losing by three to seven points.
"There is so much energy. It's electric. It's make or break and we believe it will break in our favour," said Ann Muenster, an organiser at Democratic campaign headquarters in Appleton. City clerks said the town could match or even exceed the 2008 presidential election turnout, a trend reported elsewhere.
The Government Accountability Board predicted state-wide turnout of around 65%, well above the first Walker-Barrett contest in 2010 but below the 69% turnout of the 2008 White House vote when Barrack Obama took the state.
With turnout high across the board the result hinged on which areas were highest. For Barrett to win he needed massive turnout not just in Madison but also the counties of Dane, Eua Clair, Milwaukee, Portage and Rock, among others. Walker's survival hinged largely on the Milwaukee suburbs as well as the other Republican heartlands of Greendale, Washington, Ozaukee, Fond du Lac and Waukesha.
If Walker survives it will boost Republican hopes of wresting Wisconsin from Obama in November's presidential election and embolden other Republican governors to confront public sector unions, the issue that triggered the recall.