Marathon County, central Wisconsin’s population stronghold, trends toward center in Spring election

Poll workers in Wausau on April 7, 2020 (WSAW Photo)
Poll workers in Wausau on April 7, 2020 (WSAW Photo)(WSAW)
Published: Apr. 13, 2020 at 10:38 PM CDT
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Partisan divides were narrower than previous elections in the past decade for central Wisconsin’s population center. A presidential preference vote narrowly split in Marathon County by less than two percentage points of difference and the state Supreme Court race saw a declining conservative lead compared to last year’s similar race.

Marathon County hasn’t voted blue since the 2008 November election when they elected former president Barack Obama with 54% of the vote, swinging heavily to the right in 2010 for former governor Scott Walker and voting reliably red in every major election since.

In 2016, their presidential preference was 60% Republican, before sending President Donald Trump 57% of the vote that November. In 2018, it was a similar story when they voted to reelect former governor Scott Walker by 20 percentage points over Governor Tony Evers, who won the statewide race on slim margins.

But after a pandemic that briefly suspended in-person voting and changed the face of the Wisconsin spring election with a week’s delay in reporting results, the separation of partisan ballots in Marathon County wasn’t as clean cut. While conservative-backed Justice Dan Kelly took 53% of the vote—down from 2019’s state supreme court justice Brian Hagedorn taking 59%--the overall presidential preference vote amounted to a split of 49% to 48%. For comparison, in 2012, that split was 78% to 22%.

Voter turnout for the county was on par with 2016’s statewide presidential primary election at 48%, although the absentee ballot count amounted to a far higher percentage after the state pushed absentee voting for weeks leading up to the election in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Returned absentee ballots in Marathon County numbered about 21,000 out of about 25,000 requested—far higher than 2019’s spring election returned absentee ballot count of about 2,600.

A declining lead for Kelly also emerges when compared to Hagedorn’s 2019 lead in other counties across central Wisconsin. In Wood County, he took 53% of the vote, down from Hagedorn’s 57%. Lincoln County, one of the nation’s 206 pivot counties, turnout was at just 34%, with 54% of the Supreme Court vote going to Kelly, down from Hagedorn’s 59%.


than normal for the state’s spring election, after a number of state and federal court rulings changed the face of the election. A federal court ruled that results would not be released until April 13, a ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court left intact while overturning another part of the ruling that would have allowed ballots postmarked after April 7 but returned by the 13th to have counted in the vote. Governor Tony Evers issued an executive order on April 6 suspending in-person voting until June, but that order was overruled later the same day by the state Supreme Court, which left in-person voting on April 7 intact.

Unprecedented waves of absentee ballot requests in the final two weeks before the vote along with a shortage of workers and available poll locations as workers feared for their health in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to many voters saying

in time to return April 7.

Results for the Spring election remain unofficial until verified later this week, but the election cycle is far from over for Wisconsin. May 12 remains the date for the special election in the 7th Congressional district, a date that on Friday the governor's office has suggested is open to change.

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