Wisconsin’s Supreme Court primary is today

Welcome to the Tuesday, February 21, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Here’s what to know about the Feb. 21 Wisconsin Supreme Court primary
  2. The final state legislative election of 2022 
  3. 289 election-related bills introduced in state legislatures 

Here’s what to know about today’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election

There are two regularly-scheduled state supreme court seats up for election this year, but the primary happening today for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court is likely to attract the most attention because the election will determine the court’s ideological makeup.

Although the election is officially nonpartisan, the court is considered to have a 4-3 conservative majority. Justice Patience Roggensack, a member of that conservative majority, is retiring. Her term ends July 31.

Jennifer Dorow, Daniel Kelly, Everett Mitchell, and Janet Protasiewicz are running in the nonpartisan primary to replace Roggensack. The top-two vote-getters will advance to the general election on April 4. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Corrinne Hess, “[Mitchell and Protasiewicz] are running as liberal candidates. Kelly and Dorow are running as conservative candidates.”

Here’s what to know about the candidates:

  • Dorow joined the Waukesha County Circuit Court in 2012 after Gov. Scott Walker (R) appointed her. In her campaign announcement, Dorow said, “We must replace Justice Roggensack with a judicial conservative who will fairly and faithfully apply the law as written to the facts of the cases that come before the court.” Roggensack endorsed Dorow in January 2023.
  • Kelly served on the supreme court from 2016—when Walker appointed him to fill a vacancy—to 2020. Kelly said, “If an activist were to win next April, Wisconsin’s public policy would be imposed by four lawyers sitting in Madison instead of being adopted through our constitutional processes. I won’t let that happen on my watch.” Justice Rebecca Bradley endorsed Kelly in November 2022.
  • Mitchell, who was first elected to the Dane County Circuit Court in 2016, said, “[P]reserving the integrity and independence of the court has never been more important. … Wisconsinites deserve a justice who has the highest respect for the Wisconsin Constitution and is committed to ensuring that the Wisconsin Supreme Court is an instrument of balance and justice rather than partisan divide.” Former Justice Louis Butler endorsed Mitchell in June 2022.
  • Protasiewicz was first elected to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 2014. Protasiewicz said, “We must restore confidence that judges aren’t just trying to reach their favored outcomes, but actually applying the law and the constitution. I’m running to restore integrity to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and get politics out of the courtroom.” Justice Rebecca Dallet endorsed Protasiewicz in May 2022, and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley endorsed Protasiewicz in February 2023.

Here’s a look at candidate fundraising and spending as of Feb. 6.

The Wisconsin State Journal‘s Alexander Shur wrote: “With the court’s ideological balance up for grabs, the candidate elected in April will play a decisive role in upcoming cases that may include the legality of Wisconsin’s near-complete 1849 abortion ban, fights over legislative redistricting and the power of the executive branch in administering laws.”

Wisconsin has a divided government. The governor is Democrat Tony Evers, while Republicans control both legislative chambers.

Heading into the 2020 election, the court had a 5-2 conservative majority. In that election, liberal Jill Karofsky defeated Kelly 55.2% to 44.7%.

The other state holding a state supreme court election this year is Pennsylvania. The primary is May 16, and the general election is Nov. 7.

In 2020, we released Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship, a study to discern the partisan balance on each of the country’s 52 courts of last resort. Of the 341 justices we studied, 52.5% recorded Republican Confidence Scores, 33.1% recorded Democratic Confidence Scores, and 14.4% recorded Indeterminate Confidence Scores. Click here to read that study.

Learn more about the Wisconsin Supreme Court election at the link below.

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The final state legislative election of 2022 

A new year brings with it new elections. But 2022 isn’t quite done with us—on Feb. 21, New Hampshire voters will decide the last 2022 state legislative race. Yes—you read that right. So, let’s get caught up on how we got here.

  • Incumbent Chuck Grassie (D) and David Walker (R) ran in the general election for New Hampshire’s House Stafford 8 on Nov. 8. 
  • In an election night count, Walker received 971 votes to Grassie’s 970.  
  • After a recount, both candidates received 970 votes—a draw. 
  • A new election was called for Feb. 21, 2023.

Under New Hampshire law, in the event of a tied legislative race, the New Hampshire General Court (the name of the state’s legislative body) either determines the winner or sets a process for deciding the winner.

Regarding the tied result, Grassie said, “this was not unexpected … We both ran good campaigns … and we’re both well-known in the community. We’ve known each other for over 30 years, both well-known in the ward, so it is what it is.”

The specific reasons for calling a redo election vary but can include anything from a tied vote to deliberate efforts to obscure results to mistakes like a broken voting machine.

While New Hampshire’s redo election will not affect control of the state House, it will determine the extent of Republican control in the 400-member chamber, the nation’s largest.

If Grassie wins re-election, Republicans will have a 201-197 majority. If Walker wins, Republicans will extend their majority to 202 versus Democrats’ 196. Two seats, previously held by Democrats, are also currently vacant.

Redo elections are not unprecedented in New Hampshire or other states. The New Hampshire General Court followed a similar course of action in 1992, also in response to a tied result. In Connecticut last year, a redo was held for a Democratic primary in House District 127 because officials learned that four ineligible voters had cast absentee/mail-in ballots—more than the two-vote margin separating the candidates. Challenger Marcus Brown (D) defeated incumbent John Hennessy (D) in the redo election.

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289 election-related bills introduced in state legislatures 

Here’s an update on last week’s state election legislation. As a reminder, if you want to learn more about election-related legislation, you can subscribe to our weekly election legislation tracking digest to receive weekly updates on election-related activity across the states. You can also use our interactive Election Administration Legislation Tracker to find and read election-related bills in your state.

Now, a look back at last week’s activity. Since Feb. 10, 289 election-related bills have been introduced (or had pre-committee action). That’s a 17.6% decrease from last week’s 351 bills. 

These 289 bills represent 19.7% of the 1,466 pieces of legislation we are currently tracking. Ninety-seven of these bills are from states with Democratic trifectas, 133 are from states with Republican trifectas, and 59 are from states with divided governments. 

Election-related bills include legislation on voter registration and lists, audits and oversight, absentee/mail-in voting, election dates and deadlines, fraud, voting equipment, and more.

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