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Wausau's elections aren't finished yet
Close races have led to a number of recounts in Wausau area elections, and have led to reversals in some races
Wausau City Clerk Kaitlyn Bernard looked a touch nervous Thursday morning in the Maple Room at City Hall. City clerks don’t often have so much attention on them, but as one of six election officials present, along with two observers and two reporters (myself and a long-time cameraman from Channel 7) she explained how things would work.
All were gathered to recount the election in District 1. Carol Lukens had beat John Kroll by a two-vote margin, and Kroll had requested the votes be poured over again. By this point, the village of Kronenwetter had already seen a recount, and it resulted in a reversal.
Timothy Shaw challenged Danielle Bergman’s win over him for the third village board seat. When the recount wrapped, it turned out they were tied. Shaw ended up winning via name draw, one of three methods clerks can use to decide a contest. (A coin toss or playing card draw are the others, and frankly they’re more dramatic.)
Kroll didn’t have the same luck. The vote came out the same, with Kroll two votes short of the win. Lukens will hold on to her seat.
A third recount is coming this week. Randy DeBroux initially went to bed Tuesday night thinking he’d won the District 11 County Board race, as did the rest of the press. But by morning, with the rest of the absentee ballots counted, it turned out incumbent Alyson Leahy had won.
The DeBroux/Leahy race is one I would call A Community For All contest. Leahy was a supporter of the resolution, which sparked a backlash at the polls. That backlash was largely successful on the county board, as it was in the Wausau School Board the previous election in the district’s COVID policies. Many conservative candidates made it clear in their interviews that CFA sparked them to run in the first place.
I said at first that I was surprised there hadn’t been more recounts. Many of the races were close. And some issues at District 1 in the city made me think we’d see more scrutiny overall.
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How many were close? Six of the 19 Marathon County Board races were decided by 50 votes or fewer, and some of those by 20 or fewer. Leahy/DeBroux was a difference of three in Leahy’s favor.
And four of the six City Council races were decided by fewer than 50 votes and several were much closer, in fact: Lukens/Kroll by two votes; Henke/Ryan by 30; Diny/Kearns by 20.
Bergmann had defeated Shaw by only one vote in the Kronenwetter race that was ultimately overturned in Shaw’s favor.
The Portage County Executive race also saw a recall, my colleague down south reports. And WPR’s Rob Mentzer mentioned tiebreakers in several Northwoods communities.
You may or may not have read my report on how local non-partisan elections have in short order become de facto partisan races. It’s likely that is partially the cause of all the close races. Lending credence to this idea: The biggest landslide was from Ricky Cveykus, who deliberately sold himself as non-partisan in his bid for Marathon County Circuit Court Judge. Cveykus crossed party lines in a way no other candidate this election seemed to.
The last time I recall covering a tiebreaker was in Stevens Point around 2012. There was a tie between two of the city council candidates — as write-ins for county board. Neither of them particularly wanted it and neither ran for the position. People just wrote them in, something like a dozen apiece, since they were on the council ballot in that district.
The winning City Council candidate (she sadly died of cancer a few years later) wanted to essentially give the seat to the losing council candidate, but it turns out you can’t do that. You must either accept or it goes to a special election or an appointment process. As I recall she ultimately changed her mind after winning and took the seat, serving on both the council and county board.
I can tell you that I can’t recall knowing anything about her politics, at least in the partisan sense. Or her opponent’s, for that matter. I know she went from going along with the mayor on everything to being a strong independent voice on the council for her constituents. I told her so at one point, about how she’d really come out of her shell. She agreed that she’d really found her footing after a quiet first term. It was one of the last conversations we had.
That wasn’t the case with the current crop of candidates. For many of them, it seemed pretty clear by their answers which way they leaned politically. And even if they didn’t, partisan candidate endorsement lists made the decision for them, whether they wanted it or not.
That interest is stronger in local politics is clear. To get 32% turnout countywide in a non-presidential race is pretty darned good.
But the effect of that is that more people will be voting on “party lines” which means less crossover. That means more close races as people vote their party, which ensures closer to a 50-50 split. The margins will likely then be more slim going forward. Like presidential elections, it’ll be more about who can mobilize their base.
George Washington and John Adams, the first and second Presidents of the United States, both expressed concern about the effects of partisanship, at a time when those parties were defined as Republican or Federalist. Both felt the pressures of partisan division and labels, despite deliberately not labeling themselves. 1
Maybe they were on to something.
Interesting side note: newspapers in this time were unabashedly partisan. There was no pretense of objectivity; they advertised them as Republican or Federalist, and made heroes of their side and dastardly villains of their foes. (And before that, revolutionary or Tory.) Even George Washington, the hero of the revolution, only avoided this for about the first year of his presidency. It made the CNN/Fox news divide of today look light-hearted by comparison.