Larry Sandler and Meg Jones, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Eighteen-year-old Maricella Garcia pasted the small oval "I voted" sticker on her bright blue T-shirt as she walked out of the library at Bradley Tech High School a few minutes before 8 p.m. Tuesday.
"I've been waiting to put this on all day," Garcia said. So did hundreds of thousands of other Wisconsinites.
Turnout was heavy throughout the state as Wisconsin voters packed the polls to decide the historic gubernatorial recall election.
In many places, election officials said turnout was as strong as, or stronger than, it was for the 2010 gubernatorial election. A few even compared it with the 2008 presidential election.
Heavy turnout in strongly Democratic Milwaukee led the city's Election Commission to call out the reserves. Extra poll workers were sent to at least nine polling places, said Sue Edman, the election commission's executive director. Officials at 20 to 30 polling places, mostly on the city's north side, called city election authorities reporting they had either run out of ballots, voter registration forms or were running low.
Additional ballots and forms were taken to those districts, and Edman said that to her knowledge no one missed the chance to vote because of a shortage. However, there were reports of people leaving without voting because they either had to wait too long to register to vote or decided not to stick around until more registration forms were delivered.
Backup poll workers called
Backup workers were needed to handle long lines, partly because a significant number of new voters were registering at the polls. In some cases, poll workers were shifted from less-crowded polling places to busier ones, Edman said. She also used city administrators who volunteered to help.
Garcia waited 35 minutes to register to vote at Bradley Tech High School. It was the first time she voted.
"I came just to know I'm making a contribution and trying to make a change in Wisconsin," Garcia said.
Students turned away
Problems ranged from voting machines breaking down to voters being told they couldn't cast ballots because of redistricting or changes in residency rules. Police were called after a voting machine was found damaged in the Village of Rothschild in Marathon County.
More than 200 students statewide reported confusion at the polls, and many left without casting a vote, according to the League of Women Voters. Some poll workers turned away students whom they perceived as not meeting the state's 28-day residency requirement.
A toll-free phone number operated by Election Protection, a nonpartisan voter protection coalition, logged more than 1,500 calls Tuesday, mostly from Wisconsin college students asking about the new 28-day residency requirement.
Many university students registered to vote on campus for the May 8 recall primary, then moved back home or elsewhere for the summer. Because of the residency requirement, students needed to either return to their campus polling place or vote absentee; they could not vote from their home address if they were registered at their university address.
"We know there has been disenfranchisement. We know this has happened. We know students left their polling places without voting," said Carolyn Castore, coordinator for the league's election hotline.
A wait to register
Jane Pankowski waited 45 minutes to register to vote on Milwaukee's east side. She moved 1 1/2 years ago and stopped at the polls at George Washington Carver Academy about 6 p.m. on her way home from work. She noticed three people in the voter registration line who decided the wait was too long and left; others were told they didn't have the proper documentation to register, left and returned with the information to wait in line again.
"Which shows you how important this election was," Pankowski said. "I expected I would have to wait in line, but it took much longer than I expected."
Poll workers at Phillis Wheatley School on N. 20th St. reported having only 110 paper ballots and 12 registration forms shortly after 6 p.m. and many people waiting in line. The polling place already had run low on ballots earlier in the day and election officials dropped off more.
Registration forms for residents signing up to vote also ran low or were gone at several wards in Milwaukee. Janet Veum, communications coordinator for Wisconsin Jobs Now, said registration forms ran out at several wards on Milwaukee's north side.
"The issue is there are a lot of people waiting in line to register to vote, but there are no forms," Veum said. "We know that hundreds of people have not voted because there were no forms available."
Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, said anyone waiting in line to register and vote as of 8 p.m. is allowed to fill out a form and vote.
In Dane County, the state's other major Democratic stronghold, 27% of registered voters had cast ballots by 11 a.m., "definitely a larger turnout than 2010," County Clerk Karen Peters said.
But Gov. Scott Walker's base also turned out strongly, particularly in several Waukesha County communities that favored him by more than 2-to-1 in his 2010 victory over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
In the Village of Pewaukee, 1,300 voters had cast ballots at the village's two voting sites by 11:15 a.m., in addition to 700 absentee ballots.
The line of voters was more than 20 people deep at 1:40 p.m. at the Oconomowoc Arts Center - the shortest line of the day up to that point, according to City Clerk Diane Coenen. She said all four of the city's polling stations opened with large lines, with waits of 40 minutes or more.
In Brown County, turnout was busier than the 2008 presidential election, prompting officials to print about 17,000 extra ballots.
'The American way'
For Paul and Susan Gouvion, the morning traffic jam near Wilson Elementary School in Wauwatosa was a welcome sight. Cars were parked on both sides of side streets and busy Glenview Ave. outside the polling place.
"In all of the 50 years that we've lived here, we've never seen this many people voting," Susan Gouvion said. "This is really the American way. There are so many things that are important in this election."
At Bradley Tech, about two dozen people were still waiting to register to vote at 8 p.m. Among them was Grant Keller, who waited about half an hour; he couldn't get to the polls any earlier because of work. He was the second to last to cast his vote in the library next to shelves of books and sports trophies.
"I knew this would be a big election because of all that's gone on in Madison in the last year," Keller said.
Don Walker, Jesse Garza, Nicole Levy, Bill Glauber, Steve Schultze, James B. Nelson, Jim Stingl, Don Behm, Sharif Durhams and Kristyna Wentz-Graff of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
©2012 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel