What’s happening in Tuesday’s partisan primary?

Madison voting
The Wisconsin Capitol on spring election day, April 7, 2020. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

Four months after Wisconsin’s heavily watched pandemic election in April, the state’s voters will head to the polls again for Tuesday’s fall partisan primary. 

The April election involved executive orders and last-minute Supreme Court decisions as the state attempted to vote while still under Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide stay-at-home order. In August, the state is no longer under the order, but more of the state’s counties now have high levels of COVID-19. 

In April, while the state Department of Health Services reported 71 people contracted COVID-19 after going to the polls, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control did not find that in-person voting caused a spike in infections

Absentee and mail-in voting is still expected to be a major portion of the vote, as it was in April when 1.1 million people voted absentee, but in-person voting won’t be as difficult as it was in the spring. 

On Tuesday, Milwaukee will have 168 open polling locations compared to just five open locations in April. 

Across the state, local clerks reported a shortage of 900 poll workers and Evers called up the Wisconsin National Guard, as he did in April, to fill the gaps. 

On the ballot, seats long held by incumbents have finally opened up, leaving a free-for-all in Madison and an open race in the 5th Congressional District for the first time in decades.

In Madison, the retirement of Sen. Fred Risser, the longest serving lawmaker in U.S. history, has drawn a large field of seven candidates for the 26th Senate District. With no Republicans on the ballot, the winner will be decided in the Democratic primary.  

The district covers Madison’s isthmus, the University of Wisconsin campus, Shorewood Hills and the western half of the city. On the ballot are former Madison Ald. Brian Benford, 2018 gubernatorial candidate William Davis III, Sustainable Madison Committee member Nada Elmikashfi, Wisconsin Environmental Initiative executive director John Imes, former Democratic Party field organizer Amani Latimer Burris, recent college graduate Aisha Moe and former state Rep. Kelda Roys.

This is the first time this seat has been open in more than 50 years. The candidates span from young progressives such as Elmikashfi and Moe to more established figures such as Roys, who held a seat in the state Assembly from 2009-13. 

On the other side of Madison, there are seven candidates running to replace Rep. Chris Taylor in the 76th Assembly District. Taylor announced earlier this year she would not be seeking reelection. 

The district covers Madison’s isthmus and East Side. The district is heavily Democratic but the winner will face Republican Patrick Hull in the November election. 

On the ballot for the Democrats is real estate agent Dewey Bredeson, Madison police officer Tyrone Cratic Williams, Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Association member Heather Driscoll, chef and restaurant owner Francesca Hong, former communications specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Office of Children’s Mental Health Ali Maresh, Madison City Council Ald. Marsha Rummel and Madison School Board member Nicki Vander Meulen.

Elsewhere in the state Legislature, Democrats are trying to make a dent in the Republican majorities in both houses, while some incumbents are attempting to fend off serious challenges. 

Among the most vulnerable is Rep. Staush Gruszynski (D-Green Bay) who is still running for reelection in the 90th district despite admitting to the sexual harassment of a staff member. 

Democratic leaders have distanced themselves from Gruszynski but he remains on the ballot against Green Bay School Board member Kristina Shelton. The winner of Tuesday’s primary will run against Republican Drew Kirsteatter. 

Shelton has received endorsements from a number of local officials, including Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich. 

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At the federal level, there are competitive primaries for a few of the state’s congressional districts. 

In the 1st Congressional District, Democrats Josh Pade and Roger Polack are vying to challenge first-term incumbent Rep. Bryan Steil in November. 

Polack, a Racine-native, was a civilian intelligence officer in Afghanistan before attending law school and turning to international investigations. Pade, from Kenosha and also a lawyer, ran for governor in 2018. 

While Steil, who occupies former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat, is fighting for reelection after his first term, in the nearby 5th Congressional District, a seat open for the first time in decades due to the retirement of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. 

Last year, Sensenbrenner announced he would not run again after 22 terms in Congress. In the Republican primary for the seat are state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Cliff DeTemple, a small business owner and commander in the U.S. Coast Guard. 

The winner in the Republican primary will go up against Democrat Tom Palzewicz in November. Palzewicz ran and lost against Sensenbrenner in 2018. 

In the 6th Congressional District, three Democrats are running to challenge Rep. Glenn Grothman. IT consultant Michael Beardsley, business executive Matt Boor and Jessica King, a former state senator, mayor and common council member in Oshkosh. 

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. People who filled out absentee ballots but did not mail them in can drop them off at their municipal clerk’s office, clerks must receive mailed ballots by election day.