Milwaukee mayoral election: Voters cast ballots in person, absentee

Cavalier Johnson was elected Milwaukee mayor Tuesday, April 5 – a historic victory that makes him the city's first elected Black mayor and first new mayor in nearly two decades.

Johnson beat Bob Donovan, who also lost the mayor's race in 2016 to Tom Barrett, who held the post since 2004. Barrett left office in December to become U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg.

Counting ballots

A question coming into Tuesday's general election was what turnout might be like. As the polls opened, city officials said more than 8,500 people voted early, with more than 28,000 absentee ballots returned of the 35,000 issued.

"It’s very important to have a say in the way our city is run," said Joan Lopresti.

That's up nearly 5,000 ballots compared to the February mayoral primary that ultimately saw more than 61,000 total votes cast in the big-ticket race.

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A Milwaukee Central Count, located in a Bay View warehouse, dozens of workers helped sort through paper and run the 29,076 ballots through machines to count the votes. An election official told FOX6 News that the work to count absentee ballots began around 9 a.m.

"It’s been smooth sailing, just kind of a constant hum out there of chief inspectors calling us. It seems like voters are showing up, so it seems like everything is going smoothly," said Claire Woodall-Vogg, Milwaukee Election Commission executive director.

After absentee votes were counted in Milwaukee, several USB flash drives carrying the results were driven to the county election office to be added to the other results. 

Getting out the vote

Even before Tuesday, vote totals surpassed those cast in the spring mayoral primary in which Johnson and Donovan emerged from a field of seven candidates.

With the sounds of Toni Baxton in the background, Metcalfe Park Community Bridges and other groups worked to keep their finger on the pulse of Milwaukee voters on Election Day.

"Want to make sure that they’re informed, that they can make those choices to go out and vote," said Brittney Taylor with Metcalfe Park Community Bridges.

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A couple of hundred feet away at the Milwaukee Public Library Central Branch, poll workers eagerly awaited voters Tuesday morning.

"Saw our absentee voting list," said Kim Osborn. "Over 90% of the absentee ballots issued in this ward were already sent in, so today, we’re catching, I suppose, what’s left."

With 25 voters as of 11:30 a.m., it was a different scene than that at Riverside University High School when polls opened.

"Looked at the line, so many people here," said Chilene Harris. "I wanted to get it over with, that's all."

"These are difficult times for people to get out there," said Paru Shah, UW-Milwaukee political science professor. "People are pretty tired."


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