Absentee ballots account for 79 percent of votes cast in Madison as city sees higher voter turnout

MADISON, Wis. — Turnout for Tuesday’s primary election was about 75% higher than the last similar primary back in 2016, according to data from the Madison city clerk.

Political expert and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Mordecai Lee said the massive increase in absentee voting might have something to do with it.

“If we have more than say, 600,000 votes yesterday,” Lee said, referring to statewide vote totals cast, “then we can definitely say that it’s increasing turnout.”

More than 50,000 people used an absentee ballot to vote in the primary in Madison, making up around 79% of the total votes cast in the election in the city.

Turnout in Madison was around 39%, and the last similar primary in 2016 the city had 22% voter turnout.

It’s too soon to say if that’s a trend for the state or if absentee ballots are the cause.

One study in Oregon, which has universal vote-by-mail, found the system increased turnout 10 percentage points, but researchers haven’t been able to get those results again since.

This increase in absentee voting is coming at a time when President Donald Trump is discouraging voting by mail, and public opinion on this voting system is changing.

According to the poll released this week from the University of Wisconsin’s Election Research Center, around 80% of Republicans plan to vote in person this November, while around 66% of Democrats said they would vote by mail.

“We’re starting to see a pretty consistent partisan difference in the ways in which people vote, which was not really a partisan issue or anything that was politicized before 2020,” said Barry Burden, the director of the research center.

Lee said if voters find they liked casting their ballot by mail this year, Wisconsin could be in for a change.

“I think the legislature that’s going to be elected in November coming back in January, whether it’s Democrat, whether it’s Republican, whether it’s mixed, they’re all going to be hearing from their constituents that are going to be saying, ‘Voting by mail is not a partisan issue,’” Lee said. “’It’s not an ideological issue. We really like it, and we want you to do it.’”

A common myth with absentee voting is that it creates widespread voter fraud, but Burden said there isn’t evidence to suggest that is a problem in states that have adopted this system.