What to expect in Wisconsin's 2024 presidential primaries and spring ballot questions

Wisconsin's 2024 presidential primaries are a contest less about winning delegates and more about carrying the pivotal state in November, with voters also deciding two proposed constitutional amendments that would shape how elections in the state are run and paid for.

Associated Press

March 29, 2024

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One sign reading Vote Here and City of Milwaukee with a U.S. flag graphic and an arrow along with a smaller sign behind it reading Vote with an arrow are placed in a lawn in the front of a masonry and brick building with two sets of double doors.

Two signs point voters toward a city of Milwaukee polling place on Nov. 9, 2022. Voters in the pivotal swing state of Wisconsin will have a chance to indicate their support or opposition to the Democratic and Republican parties' presumptive nominees in presidential primaries on April 2, 2024. The state's voters will also decide the fate of two Republican-backed statewide ballot measures that will shape how elections in the state are run and funded. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Robert Yoon, AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will compete April 2 in the Wisconsin presidential primaries, a contest that’s now less about winning delegates and more about carrying the pivotal state in November. Wisconsin voters will also decide two proposed constitutional amendments that would shape how elections in the state are run and paid for.

Trump, a Republican, and Biden, a Democrat, unofficially sealed their parties’ nominations on March 12, and while they aren’t competing head-to-head on the ballot, their campaigns are now fully focused on what’s expected to be another close general election fight in the Badger State.

Biden visited Wisconsin on March 13 to unveil $3.3 billion in infrastructure funding for more than 40 states, including a $36 million project in Milwaukee. Later in the trip, he opened his state campaign headquarters, also in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s most populous city and home of the 2024 Republican National Convention. Trump will make his first visit to Wisconsin in a primary night rally in Green Bay on April 2.

Biden and Trump are the only major candidates remaining in their respective primary fields, but voters in both contests may vote instead for “Uninstructed Delegation,” the equivalent of the “Uncommitted” ballot option that has appeared in several other states.

In 2016, Trump edged Democrat Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin by 22,748 votes, a margin of just 0.76 percentage points. Four years later, Biden carried the state by an even smaller margin of 20,682 votes, or 0.63 percentage points.

Also before voters in the April 2 primary are a pair of Republican-backed statewide ballot measures that would affect how elections are run. One proposal would bar the use of private grant money in administering elections, an effort to curb the influence of what supporters of the measure have dubbed “Zuckerbucks,” a reference to a one-time donation made by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife to a liberal group that helped defray the costs of elections in communities across the country in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. The other measure would enshrine existing laws about who can be a poll worker into the state’s constitution. No Democratic lawmakers supported the measures when they were before the state legislature.

Here’s a look at what to expect on April 2.

Primary day

Wisconsin’s presidential primary and spring election will be held on Tuesday, April 2. Polls close at 8 p.m. CT.

What’s on the ballot?

The Associated Press will provide coverage for the presidential primaries as well as two statewide ballot measures, known as Questions 1 and 2. The presidential candidates on the Democratic ballot are Biden and Dean Phillips. The candidates on the Republican ballot are Trump, Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy. In both primaries, voters may also select “Uninstructed Delegation” or write in the name of another candidate.

Who gets to vote

Any registered voter in Wisconsin may participate in either the presidential primary or in the spring election.

Delegate allocation rules

Wisconsin’s 82 pledged Democratic delegates are allocated according to the national party’s standard rules. Eighteen at-large delegates are allocated in proportion to the statewide vote, as are 10 PLEO delegates, or “party leaders and elected officials.” The state’s eight congressional districts have at stake a combined 54 delegates, which are allocated in proportion to the vote results in each district. Candidates must receive at least 15% of the statewide vote to qualify for any statewide delegates, and 15% of the vote in a congressional district to qualify for delegates in that district.

There are 41 delegates at stake in the Republican presidential primary. Seventeen delegates will be awarded to the winner of the statewide vote. Twenty-four delegates will be allocated according to the vote in each of the state’s eight congressional districts. The top vote-getter in a congressional district will be awarded three delegates from that district. This is the same method Maine and Nebraska use to award electoral votes in the general election.

Decision notes

In the presidential race, Biden and Trump are the favorites in their primaries as neither candidate faces a strong challenge. The first indications that they are winning statewide on a level consistent with the overwhelming margins seen in most other contests held this year may be sufficient to determine the statewide winners.

For the constitutional amendments, the fault lines hew closely to traditional partisan lines, with Republican state lawmakers backing the two measures and Democrats in opposition. Thus, the state’s vote history and political demographics will inform the race-calling process.

In 2016, Clinton lost statewide despite winning Milwaukee County with 66% of the vote, Dane County, the home of Madison, with 70% and La Crosse with 51%. Four years later, Biden won Milwaukee with 69% of the vote, Dane with 76% and La Crosse with 56%, eking out a narrow statewide victory. Trump carried Brown County, the home of Green Bay, in 2016 and 2020 with about 52% of the vote, but Biden improved upon Clinton’s showing there by about 4 percentage points. Turnout for the April 2 primaries should be much lower than in a presidential election, but if the “No” votes in these and other counties are closer to Clinton’s numbers than to Biden’s, that’s an indicator the measures will pass.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

What do turnout and advance vote look like

As of March 1, Wisconsin had 3.4 million registered voters. The state does not register voters by party.

Turnout in the 2022 midterms was about 14% of registered voters in the Democratic primaries for governor and U.S. Senate and between 19% and 20% in the Republican primaries.

About 26% of votes in the 2022 Wisconsin primaries were cast before Election Day. In the 2020 presidential primaries, which were held in the first weeks of the pandemic, pre-Election Day voting made up 74% of the total vote. In the 2016 presidential primaries, it was at about 10% of the total vote.

As of March 27, 166,596 votes had been cast before Election Day, about 73% by mail and about 27% in person.

How long does vote-counting usually take?

In the 2022 midterm primaries, the AP first reported results at 9:14 p.m. ET, or 14 minutes after polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 3:01 a.m. ET with about 99.8% of total votes counted.

Are we there yet?

As of April 2, there will be 104 days until the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, 139 days until the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and 217 days until the Nov. 5 general election.

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