- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Voters in Wisconsin can begin casting ballots in the presidential race on Monday, a little over two weeks before the April 5 primary in which a seat on the state Supreme Court is also at stake.

It marks the first presidential election in which Wisconsin voters will be required to show photo identification to cast their ballots, a new law that election clerks worry will cause delays and longer lines. Early voting runs through 5 p.m. on April 1, but is no longer allowed on weekends and is a week shorter than it used to be.

There is no official turnout prediction yet from the state elections board. But local clerks are preparing for long lines both because of the new photo ID requirement and the high interest in the presidential race in which Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are looking to Wisconsin to solidify their leads.

The state Supreme Court race, between Justice Rebecca Bradley and state Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, is also being decided. Supporters of both candidates have been urging their backers to vote early.

“You will see lines,” Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said on Friday. “The presidential is going to drive it. The fact you have viable campaigns on both sides is unusual. There’s just an intense amount of interest. The Trump campaign seems to be driving people who haven’t voted in April before.”

Neil Albrecht, the head of elections in Milwaukee, said he was expecting turnout of at least 45 percent, even though he believes shortening the early voting window from three weeks to two, combined with the photo ID requirement, will have a negative effect.

Early voting was not significant in the last presidential primary election in 2012. Only about 2.4 percent of the total votes cast that year were in-person absentee ballots, according to figures from the Government Accountability Board.

But that year the presidential race was far less tumultuous, with President Barack Obama unchallenged on the Democratic side and Republican Mitt Romney close to becoming the presumptive nominee by the time Wisconsin voted.

The five remaining presidential candidates are expected to turn their focus to Wisconsin next week after Tuesday’s primaries in western states. Although Clinton and Trump are the front-runners, neither has locked up their party’s nomination and challengers are expected to compete fiercely for Wisconsin’s delegates.

There are 42 delegates at stake on the Republican side and 86 for the Democrats, not counting 10 superdelegates who can choose whichever candidate they want regardless of who wins the popular vote.

Clinton is challenged by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while Trump faces opposition from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Kasich announced Friday that he will hold a town hall event on Wednesday in Wauwatosa.

Cruz has dispatched staff to the state. U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Cruz backer from neighboring Iowa, said Friday he thinks Cruz will do well in rural Wisconsin and has a “healthy and reasonable chance” of winning the state.

Kasich has called in support from a trio of prominent former office holders. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson and former U.S. Reps. Scott Klug and Mark Neumann are backing Kasich, who can’t win enough delegates through the primaries to get the nomination - but could siphon off enough to deny Trump the majority he needs.

Trump’s effort in Wisconsin appears to be more organic, without as much public support from current or former elected officials. One Trump backer, Thiensville village president Van Mobley, said he thinks Trump supporters in Wisconsin mirror his backers in other states, but will also include some swing voters who may be deciding between Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders.

Trump also may be able to pick up Republican voters who had been backing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio before he dropped out last week, Mobley said.

On the Democratic side, Sanders supporters including former Democratic state Rep. Brett Hulsey opened an office in Madison last week. Clinton backers, including prominent Democratic Party operatives, office holders and fundraisers, have been working for months on her campaign in Wisconsin.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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