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Another Election: Candidates for State Superintendent on Ballot Next Tuesday

Katie Thoresen/WXPR

It probably seems like you just voted in November’s presidential election.

But next Tuesday, yet another election is on the ballot in Wisconsin, a primary election for state superintendent of public instruction.

More than 300,000 people have requested absentee ballots, far below the numbers for the statewide elections last year.

Voters will narrow the field in a much lower-profile race for the state’s top education official.

The seven-way primary includes Steve Krull, the principal at Garland Elementary in Milwaukee and an Air Force veteran.

Joe Fenrick is a high school science teacher in Fond du Lac.

Dr. Shawn Hendricks-Williams is the director of the Milwaukee office for Gov. Tony Evers and also served in the Department of Public Instruction.

Troy Gunderson is the retired West Salem superintendent and a current adjunct professor at Viterbo University.

Jill Underly is the superintendent at the rural Pecatonica School District in southern Wisconsin and has the endorsement of the state’s largest teachers’ union.

Sheila Briggs serves as an assistant state superintendent.

Deb Kerr spent 13 years as the superintendent at the Brown Deer School District, which includes 80 percent students of color.

Kerr has raised and spent the most money so far in the race, followed by Briggs and Underly.

The top two vote-getters will advance to April’s general election.

In 2017, the last primary election for the office, just 8.3 percent of the voting-age population cast a ballot.

Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe expects to see something similar.

“February elections, especially in an odd-numbered year, always have, unfortunately, very low turnout. It looks to be that case for this one as well, if we’re just looking at the number of absentee ballots that have been requested, returned, and even in-person absentee,” Wolfe said.

Polls are open until 8 p.m. next Tuesday. For those voting by absentee, time is critical.

”If you’re voting by absentee ballot, you need to get your ballot back right away. Your ballot needs to be received by 8 p.m. on election day in order to be counted,” Wolfe said. “If you’re mailing it back, that means you need to get it in the mail now or consider dropping it off at your clerk’s office.”

COVID-19 caused absentee voting numbers to spike during last year’s elections as more people opted to vote from home.

Wolfe is interested to see whether that pattern continues even after the pandemic is over.

“Is it going to be a continued pattern of seeing a higher volume of absentee voting, either by mail or during in-person absentee, or do people feel comfortable returning to voting at the polls on election day? I think, in a lot of ways, that’s still to be seen,” she said.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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