Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers applauds as he gives his victory speech Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, at the Orpheum Theater in Madison, Wis. (Angela Major / WPR)
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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Gov. Tony Evers as Wisconsin’s 47th governor. He is the state’s 46th governor.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers won re-election early Wednesday, fending off a challenge from businessman Tim Michels and ensuring that Democrats and Republicans will continue to split control in Madison. 

Michels conceded the race Wednesday just after midnight. Meanwhile, the Associated Press called the race at 11:46 a.m. Johnson narrowly won another six-year term in his closely-watched race against Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who conceded at a noon press conference.

Evers told supporters at his Madison victory party he was “jazzed as hell” to still be the state’s 46th governor come January. “Holy mackerel folks —how about that?”

Some people call his style boring, Evers added, “But do you know what, Wisconsin? As it turns out, boring wins.”

Evers said voters were concerned about “democracy on the brink of existence” and issues including abortion, LGBTQ rights, climate change and “fixing the damn roads.” State Rep. Sara Rodriguez, D-Brookfield, was elected lieutenant governor.

Speaking before Barnes’ concession on Wednesday, Johnson said in a statement: “Truth has prevailed over lies and the politics of personal destruction.”

He added: “I want to thank my family and everyone who supported me and worked so hard to save this U.S. Senate seat. I will do everything I can to help make things better for Wisconsinites and to heal and unify our country.” 

Turnout in rapidly growing Dane County — estimated at 80% — helped propel Evers to a second term. With all but one of the 269 precincts reporting early Wednesday, the Dane County Clerk’s Office said more than 78% of voters went for Evers. 

In a series of tweets, John D. Johnson, a research fellow at the Marquette Law School Lubar Center, reported that Dane County voters cast more votes for Evers in 2022 than they did for President Barack Obama in 2016 and 2020. Voters in the town of Middleton near Madison reported waiting up to three hours to cast ballots. Johnson also noted that Michels fell short in many communities of the margin that former Republican Gov. Scott Walker achieved during his re-election loss to Evers in 2018.

Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels makes his way to the podium to address his supporters at the Italian Community Center early Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Milwaukee. Michels conceded the race Wednesday just after midnight. (Kenny Yoo / AP)

But turnout in Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold, actually dipped below 2018 levels, Johnson said. Evers took nearly 71% of the county’s votes this election.   

“In hindsight, looking back, I don’t know what we would’ve done differently,” Michels said in a short concession speech. “The enthusiasm was just off the charts.”

Les Sandifer of Green Bay was among those who helped put Evers over the top. Sandifer said he’s angered by Republicans who supported former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

“As a former veteran, I took an oath: ‘all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ And I’m still very, very angry that a political party tried to overthrow the government,” Sandifer said of the Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. “I watched it on television, and that’s what it was.”

He says he voted for the first time in 2016 – for a Libertarian – because he dislikes political dynasties. This time around, he says, he voted Democratic.

Voting takes place in Tripp Commons on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Nov. 8, 2022. (Amena Saleh/ Wisconsin Watch)

Evers’ victory all but ensured another four years of legislative stalemate in Madison, where he in his first term vetoed a record number of bills passed by a Republican-majority Legislature that has pushed an agenda that included adding voting barriers, limiting abortion access, shifting education funding to private schools and limiting how schools address race and gender

Following strong turnout in early voting, Wisconsinites hit the polls on Tuesday to decide elections that also determined the next secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and representatives for the U.S. House and state Senate and Assembly. 

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul defeated Republican challenger Eric Toney, who conceded just after 1 a.m., according to media reports. Kaul’s win means that a state lawsuit will continue that seeks to declare Wisconsin’s 1849 ban on abortion “unenforceable.”  

Long lines streamed from polling places in some cities, and officials in Madison and Green Bay reported needing to order more ballots by the afternoon. 

Voting lines stretch outside the Fitchburg, Wis. fire station on Lacy Road around 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Dane County saw more than 85% turnout, helping elevate Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to a second term. (Dee J. Hall / Wisconsin Watch)

Green Bay City Clerk Celestine Jeffreys lauded “a tremendous turnout” during a 5 p.m. press conference.

“I ordered a ton of ballots, but we have a lot of people in Green Bay who want to vote, which pleases me deeply,” she said. 

Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites had already voted ahead of Election Day. At least 741,795 had voted early via mail or in person, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Wisconsin’s early voting turnout for the 2022 midterm elections surpassed the last midterm election in 2018, when 547,954 voters cast ballots before Election Day — a 35% increase.

Mary Lynne Donohue, co-chair of the Sheboygan County Democratic Party, speaks with Sheboygan City Clerk Meredith DeBruin Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 at Democratic Party headquarters in Sheboygan, Wis. Earlier in the day, Donohue had urged DeBruin to have a local church serving as a polling site remove a message that urged voters to “save your religious freedom.” The message was later removed.
A digital sign at the Fountain Park United Methodist Church in Sheboygan, Wis., reads “Vote to save your religious freedom” at 10 a.m. on Election Day, on Nov. 8, 2022 while serving as a polling location. The co-chair of the Sheboygan County Democratic Party contacted the city clerk to inform her of the violation, and the sign was changed shortly afterwards. (Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)

Elections officials flagged only minor issues during voting, although police in West Bend reported arresting a man who brought a knife into a library polling place and demanded that staff “stop the voting.” Voting paused for 30 minutes at the library, and no one was harmed, police said.

The Johnson-Barnes race was among a few competitive races that will determine whether Republicans retake a 50/50 Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tie-breaking votes for Democrats. That question was still unanswered as of 11 a.m. Wednesday as races in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada were too close to call.

The election unfolded as some Republicans continued to dispute Trump’s 2020 election loss, prompting questions about whether they would accept undesired results in 2022. Although multiple reviews and recounts confirmed Joe Biden’s win in Wisconsin, a recent Marquette Law School Poll found that 60% of Wisconsin Republicans continued to doubt the 2020 election. 

The Republican doubts spurred close scrutiny of voting processes, particularly at Milwaukee’s central county facility. That lead to some tense moments late Tuesday night as Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg sealed election materials.

Woodall-Vogg warned Republican poll watchers to stop heckling or they would be asked to leave.

As Republican observers squabbled amongst themselves over who would help escort a flash drive with results to the courthouse, Douglas Haag, a Republican member of the Milwaukee Election Commission, urged them to “be respectful to the process.”

Speaking to reporters later, Haag, who also is a soccer referee, said, “if I had a red card, I would have pulled it out” on the observers.

See Wisconsin Watch’s Democracy on the Ballot series here, and read our election-related Fact Briefs here.

Daniel Brand casts his ballot on Nov. 8, 2022 at the Sheboygan Falls, Wis., town hall during the midterm elections. (Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)

Updated at 11:30 p.m.

Mario Koran reports from Milwaukee, updated at 11:20 p.m.:

The atmosphere at Milwaukee’s central count became testy as Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg sealed election materials. She warned Republican poll watchers to stop heckling or they would be asked to leave.

Republican observers squabbled amongst themselves over gets to join in escort a flash drive with results to the courthouse. “But how do you know he’s a Republican?” one observer asked. “He just showed up.”

“He’s a kid! Nobody knows who he is And he’s not saying Nothing,” a Republican observer said. “He’s a mute!”

Douglas Haag, a Republican member of the Milwaukee Election Commission, urged Republican election observers to “be respectful to the process” as officials prepared to escort a flash drive with election results from Milwaukee’s central count location to the courthouse.

Speaking to reporters later, Haag, who also is a soccer referee, said, “if I had a red card, I would have pulled it out” on observers for obstructing the process, because they were given three warnings.

Jacob Resneck reports from Green Bay, updated at 9:00 p.m.:

A coalition of labor unions and community activists gathers outside of Green Bay’s city hall following the closure of polls on Nov. 8, 2022. They called for all votes to be tallied before any candidates declare victory. (Jacob Resneck / Wisconsin Watch)

Shortly after polls closed a dozen people from a coalition of labor unions and community activists gathered outside of Green Bay’s city hall calling for all votes — including late-night absentee ballots — to be tallied before any candidates declare victory.

“We don’t play, and we’re not that light about the election night,” said Robin Scott, executive director of We All Rise: African American Resource Center. “We came out in numbers today. And our numbers are strong, and our voices will be heard.”

Jon Shelton, professor of democracy and justice studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and vice president of higher education for the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, called the gathering a response to “several years of attempting to delegitimize free and fair elections.”

“This is about preemptively making sure that folks who might be engaging in those kinds of things know that there’s an organized constituency of folks who are going to stand up to it.”

Matt Mencarini reports from Madison, updated at 8:43 p.m.:

In a media briefing shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m., Wolfe, Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator, said the work of local officials will now turn toward tabulating the state’s unofficial results. She added that there were no major Election Day issues.

“I’m, again, glad to report that today’s election went very smoothly,” she said. “But also I want to state that today’s election went smoothly not by accident. It went smoothly because of the hard work (of election workers).”

Mario Koran reports from Milwaukee, updated at 8:14 p.m.:

Ahead of the 8 p.m. closure of polls, Ann Jacobs, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, tweeted that Milwaukee would likely finish processing votes between 11 p.m. and midnight at its central count location, while counting elsewhere — such as in Wauwatosa and Racine would stretch into the morning.

Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg told reporters that Milwaukee expects to finish counting by 11:30 p.m. or sooner.

Woodall-Vogg said officials would not immediately know final turnout figures but earlier in the day called turnout on par voting in 2018. After all votes are tallied, data will be stored on a flash drive and walked over to the nearby courthouse, where results will be announced, she said.

Updated at 7:08 p.m.:

A viral tweet is falsely claiming that Madison poll workers are rigging ballots when in fact they are initialing them — a routine step in the election process, multiple local news outlets reported.

Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl told the Wisconsin State Journal that the poll worker in question is “initialing and indicating the ward number on the back of the ballot” that has yet to be filled out by a voters. “A second poll worker will add their initials to each ballot just before handing the ballot to a voter,” Witzel-Behl added.

By 8 p.m., Twitter had suspended the account that shared the false information.

Wondering where your ballot goes after you’ve voted? Then revisit this piece by Wisconsin Watch’s Matt Mencarini, who documented the life cycle of a ballot — including checks and balances to ensure it’s properly counted.

Jacob Resneck reports from Green Bay, updated at 6:40:

Turnout has been incredibly high across Green Bay, according to Green Bay City Clerk Celestine Jeffreys, who briefed reporters at 5 p.m. 

“At polls, a tremendous turnout,” she said. “I ordered a ton of ballots, but we have a lot of people in Green Bay who want to vote, which pleases me deeply.”

Green Bay had to replenish ballots at eight wards by 5 p.m. Voters who live near the East River streamed through Green Bay’s downtown transit center. 

David Smith said he’s voting Republican in response to high energy prices and inflation.

“My gas is high, my groceries are high – I mean, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

After casting his ballot, Les Sandifer said he’s angered by Republicans who supported former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

“As a former veteran, I took an oath: ‘all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ And I’m still very, very angry that a political party tried to overthrow the government,” Sandifer said of the Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. “I watched it on television and that’s what it was.”

He says he voted for the first time in 2016 – for a Libertarian – because he dislikes political dynasties. This time around, he says, he voted Democratic.

Josh Hicks was frustrated after walking five blocks from his house to vote at Green Bay Transit Center — only to be told that he was at the wrong polling place. 

Political campaign emails had indicated this would be his polling place, he said before leaving to find his correct precinct.

Chief Election Inspector Mary Watts says redistricting in the summer split wards, meaning that some confused voters initially showed up to the wrong polling place.

“It isn’t easy, especially for those voters who have transit problems, who are walking to the voting place, who have situations where they’re off from work coming in their lunch hour,” she said. 

Jeffreys said the city sent postcards across the city that should have reached voters in split wards. 

Sara Erdmann said she was energized to vote to protect reproductive rights for women.

“I am pro choice. So I am not happy with how things are going,” she said.

But Betty Keset, a first time voter originally from the Eastern African country of Eritrea, had the opposite take on abortion.

“I want to banish it completely,” she said. “Like no rape, no, nothing – I want it banned completely.”

She says the Republicans in the race speak to her values.

“I like Ron Johnson and Tim Michels,” she said. “And I like their other views too – what they’re gonna do with Wisconsin.”

5:45 p.m.:

As we near two hours until the 8 p.m. close of polls, a reminder: All eligible voters who are in line at 8 p.m. get to vote. We also have a note about voters who have yet to return their absentee ballots:

Dee J. Hall of Wisconsin Watch reports from Fitchburg, updated at 2 p.m.:

Voting lines stretched outside of a Fitchburg, Wis. fire station around 2 p.m. Long-time residents Andre Boeder and Anthony Wallace said they had never seen such a line.

In fact, Boeder said he came to the polls three times to avoid the crowd. Says Wallace: “Definitely this is the biggest turnout I’ve seen from any election — ever.”

Matt Mencarini of Wisconsin Watch reports from Madison, updated at 1:45 p.m.:

Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe said officials by midday had flagged only minor issues as voting continued.

“I’m very pleased to report that, as of this afternoon, there are no major issues that have been reported, and Election Day in Wisconsin is going smoothly,” she said.

Minor issues, she said, included voters receiving the wrong ballot at a polling place that might cover multiple wards — a flub that could be fixed. WEC also fielded questions about which IDs voters needed, she said.

Wolfe said it “won’t be a low-turnout election,” but cautioned against predicting a final figure. That’s because Wisconsin allows same-day registration, which can expand the number of eligible voters.

Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit and nonpartisan newsroom. Subscribe to our our newsletter to get our investigative stories and Friday news roundup.

Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit and nonpartisan newsroom. Subscribe to our our newsletter to get our investigative stories and Friday news roundup.

Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit and nonpartisan newsroom. Subscribe to our our newsletter to get our investigative stories and Friday news roundup.

Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit and nonpartisan newsroom. Subscribe to our our newsletter to get our investigative stories and Friday news roundup.

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