La Crosse County voter turnout ran heavy on a miserable, damp and chilly Election Day, when voters queued up outside many polling places before they opened at 7 a.m.
For example, voters lined up at the Wisconsin National Guard Armory in Onalaska cheered at the formal announcement of the poll opening, said election inspector Tom Herbert. Similarly, 49 people were in line when the polls opened at the Black River Beach Neighborhood Center in La Crosse, said poll worker Carl Cox.
Reports of lines out the door were similar from other venues throughout the county, said County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer, who said heavy turnouts are typical during gubernatorial election years. Lines usually are long in the morning because of people who want to vote on their way to work, she said.
Voter traffic remained steady throughout the day at the Southside Neighborhood Center, said poll manager Nancy Schermerhorn, adding, "There are a lot of college students, and a few high schoolers voting for the first time."
About 600 people had cast ballots shortly before 3 p.m., said Schermerhorn, who said she had been a poll worker for about five years, including the past three as manager.
"This is about the busiest I've seen it," she said, but people didn't mind crunch periods. "They are all interested in voting and willing to wait."
About 65 percent of La Crosse County’s registered voters showed up for the most recent gubernatorial election, Dankmeyer said, and 66 percent turned out in the special election in 2012, when Gov. Scott Walker beat back an effort to recall him.
Walker is facing perhaps the toughest challenge of his political career, in a virtual tie with state school Superintendent Tony Evers, a Democrat.
With 65 percent to 70 percent turnout expected in La Crosse County, Dankmeyer said, “Knock on wood. Things are quiet. That means things are going smoothly.
“Or they aren’t telling me,” she added, laughing.
The increase in absentee balloting leaves unanswered the question of whether those are new voters or people who voted in person previously but switched to absentee for this election, she said.
In Onalaska, hundreds had cast ballots by 9 a.m. in districts 2 and 3 at the armory. The ballot included a referendum in which the Onalaska School District asks electors’ approval to exceed its revenue limit by about $3 million a year for the next five years. The money would be used to maintain programs and services, as well as upgrade technology.
In the run-up to Nov. 6, Onalaska Superintendent Fran Finco said he sensed strong support for the measure.
West Salem and Bangor school districts also are asking voters for permission to exceed state-imposed revenue limits.
Voters in the Holmen School District are deciding on a $23.5 million bond referendum to expand and improve the high school, while electors in the Viroqua School District are weighing a $36.8 million building and improvement program throughout the district.
Tom Herbert, an election worker at the Onalaska armory, said roughly one-third of the District 3 voters had cast absentee ballots before Election Day.
Asked whether he thinks the early and large turnout is issue-driven, with several referendum questions on the ballot, or candidate-centered, with a number of contentious races in Wisconsin, Herbert indicated that he believes the personalities ginned up the rush to the polls.
Like other La Crosse County voters, Onalaska constituents also are deciding the fate of advisory county referendums on transportation funding and whether Wisconsin should legalize the use of marijuana by people 21 and older, and whether it should be taxed and regulated like alcohol.
At the La Crosse Ward 1 polling place at Black River Beach, Cox said the stream of voters had been steady, with probably close to 300 casting ballots by about 10 a.m.
Cox, who said he has been a poll worker for about 10 years, including three presidential votes, said turnout seemed comparable to those elections.
“We’ve been real busy at the registration table,” he said, with some new registrations and others who might have changed addresses since the last election.