Stories about Wisconsin

Special election primary to be held in Wisconsin Assembly district

A special election primary is being held on June 15 for District 37 of the Wisconsin State Assembly. Cathy Houchin, Steve Kauffeld, Nick Krueger, Jennifer Meinhardt, William Penterman, Nathan Pollnow, Jenifer Quimby, and Spencer Zimmerman are running in the Republican primary. Pete Adams is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Stephen Ratzlaff Jr. is running as an independent candidate. The general election will take place on July 13, and the winner of the special election will serve until January 2023.

The seat became vacant on April 23 after John Jagler (R) was sworn into the Wisconsin State Senate. He won a special election for state Senate District 13 on April 6. Jagler had represented District 37 since 2013. He won re-election in 2020 with 56% of the vote.

Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 60-38 majority in the Wisconsin Assembly with one vacancy. Wisconsin has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of June, 39 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 17 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Wisconsin held 19 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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Two candidates file to run in special election for Dane County Board of Supervisors seat

Two candidates have filed to run in the July 13 special election for District 19 on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. The filing deadline for the special election was May 21. A primary election was scheduled for June 15 but is not needed as only two candidates filed.

Kristen M. Morris and Timothy Rockwell are running in the special election. The special election became necessary after Teran Peterson resigned from the board on April 30. She had represented the district since April 2020.

Dane County in Wisconsin had a population of 531,273 in 2013, according to the United States Census Bureau. Ballotpedia is covering municipal elections in 22 counties and 71 cities, including 43 mayoral elections, in 2021.

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Redistricting review: Ohio, Census Bureau reach settlement in lawsuit over release of redistricting data

Ohio: On May 25, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) announced that the state had reached a settlement agreement with the Census Bureau in its lawsuit over the Census Bureau’s plan to deliver redistricting data to the states by September 30, 2021, instead of April 1, 2021, the deadline set forth in federal law. Under the terms of the settlement, the Census Bureau agreed to deliver redistricting data, in a legacy format, by August 16, 2021. The legacy format would present the data in raw form, without the data tables and other access tools the Census Bureau will ultimately prepare for the states. The Census Bureau also agreed to deliver biweekly updates (and, in August, weekly updates) on its progress. Yost said, “This administration tried to drag its feet and bog this down in court, but Ohio always had the law on its side and now the federal government has finally agreed. It’s time to cough up the data.” As of May 26, the Census Bureau had not commented publicly on the settlement.

The Census Bureau had previously indicated that redistricting data would be made available to states in a legacy format in mid-to-late August 2021, saying the following in a statement released on March 15, 2021: “In declarations recently filed in the case of Ohio v. Raimondo, the U.S. Census Bureau made clear that we can provide a legacy format summary redistricting data file to all states by mid-to-late August 2021. Because we recognize that most states lack the capacity or resources to tabulate the data from these summary files on their own, we reaffirm our commitment to providing all states tabulated data in our user-friendly system by Sept. 30, 2021.”

Illinois: State lawmakers in Illinois released their proposed maps on May 21 for the Illinois State Senate and the Illinois House of Representatives, becoming the second state (after Oklahoma) in the 2020 redistricting cycle to produce draft maps.

Upon announcing the release of the proposed maps, Sen. Omar Aquino (D) said, “Redistricting is about making sure all voices are heard, and that’s exactly what this map accomplishes. This is a fair map that reflects the great diversity of our state and ensures every person receives equal representation in the General Assembly.”

Rep. Tim Butler (R) criticized the proposed maps: “Tonight’s drop of partisan maps is yet another attempt to mislead voters in an effort to block fair elections. We continue our call upon Governor Pritzker to live up to his pledge to the people of Illinois and veto a map that was drawn by politicians like what we see here today.”

In Illinois, the General Assembly is responsible for both congressional and state legislative redistricting. Redistricting plans are subject to gubernatorial veto. Illinois is a Democratic trifecta, meaning that Democrats control the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Wisconsin: On May 14, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin denied a petition for a proposed rule by which the state supreme court would have assumed original jurisdiction over redistricting lawsuits. When a court assumes original jurisdiction, it has the “power to hear and decide a matter before any other court can review the manner.”

On June 3, 2020, Attorney Richard M. Esenberg, Brian McGrath, and Anthony F. LoCoco, on behalf of Scott Jensen and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, filed the petition for the proposed rule, saying that the state supreme court had, in Jensen v. Wisconsin Elections Board (2002), “noted that redistricting was primarily a state and not a federal responsibility … but nevertheless deferred to the federal courts because of the perceived procedural problem of a lack of rules for such a case in [the state supreme court.” The petitioners asked the court to adopt the proposed rule “to cure the perceived procedural problems it noted in Jensen.”

In an unsigned order denying the petition, the court said, “The court determined that, as drafted, the procedures proposed in this administrative rule petition are unlikely to materially aid this court’s consideration of an as yet undefined future redistricting challenge, and voted to deny the petition.” The court added, “Our decision in this rule matter should not be deemed predictive of this court’s response to a petition for review asking this court to review a lower court’s ruling on a redistricting challenge or a request that we assume original jurisdiction over a future redistricting case or controversy.”

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Annette Ziegler becomes chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court

Annette Ziegler became chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on May 1, beginning a two-year term in that role. Ziegler succeeds Patience Roggensack, who had served as chief justice since April 2015.

Ziegler was first elected to the court in 2007. She previously served as a Washington County Circuit Court judge, becoming the first female judge in that county.

Justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan. Ballotpedia’s State Court Partisanship Study identifies Ziegler as a mild Republican.

Until 2015, the justice with the longest continuous service on the Wisconsin Supreme Court served as the chief justice, unless that justice declined (in which case the role passed to the next senior justice of the court). Voters passed a state constitutional amendment in April of that year that changed the selection method to a vote by current justices. 

Chief justices in Wisconsin and 22 other states are selected by chamber vote. Fourteen (14) states select chief justices by appointment, seven by popular vote, and six by seniority.

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Voters in Madison, Wisconsin, advised the city to set term limits and maintain the size of the Common Council

With 98.7% of precincts reporting, voters in Madison, Wis., advised the city to set term limits and maintain the size of the Common Council. Voters rejected the other two ballot questions. All four questions were non-binding advisory questions.

Question 4, which advised the council to adopt term limits of 12 consecutive years for alderpersons, was approved with 70.9% of the vote. 

Question 1 would have advised Madison to transition to a full-time Common Council beginning with the spring 2023 election; with members earning approximately $45,000 to $71,00 per year, or 50% to 80% of the Adjusted Median Income for Dane County for a single parent with two children. It was defeated in a vote of 58.2% opposed to 41.8% in favor.

Question 2 was designed to ask voters about the size of the 20-member Madison Common Council. It asked voters if the council should be reduced, increased, or remain the existing size. The vote breakdown was as follows according to unofficial election results:

• 16.5% in favor of reducing the size

• 13.4% in favor of increasing the size

• 70.2% in favor of remaining the same size

Question 3 would have advised Madison to change the term length for alderpersons starting with the spring 2023 election from the existing two-year terms to four-year terms. It was defeated in a vote of 55.5% opposed to 44.5% in favor.

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Milwaukee voters elect four new members to the Board of School Directors

On April 6, Milwaukee voters elected four new members to serve on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors. The Board of School Directors oversees the Milwaukee Public Schools, Wisconsin’s largest school district. Four of the board’s nine seats were up for election.

Aisha Carr, Jilly Gokalgandhi, Marcela Garcia, and Henry Leonard will be sworn in on April 26, after winning their respective elections.

All four seats were open after three incumbents did not file for re-election and the fourth, Annie Woodward, did not submit the required number of signatures to appear on the ballot. Two of the four seats were uncontested: Garcia and Leonard ran unopposed in the races for Districts 6 and 7, respectively.

The elections in District 4 and 5 were both contested. In District 4, Carr, a former high school teacher in the district, defeated Dana Kelley, a community organizer and assistant pastor. In District 5, Gokalgandhi, an equity in education strategist, defeated Alex Brower, the former president of the district’s substitute teachers’ union.

Carr received endorsements from several local legislators including state Sen. Lena Taylor (D) and Rep. David Bowen (D). Gokalgandhi received endorsements from five incumbent school board members including Larry Miller, her district’s outgoing incumbent.

Both Kelley and Brower received endorsements from the local and national Democratic Socialists of America and Milwaukee County Supervisor, Ryan Clancy.

This election will change the number of school board members endorsed by the city’s largest teachers’ union, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA). Following the 2019 school board elections, all nine members had been endorsed by the MTEA for “the first time in memory” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Annysa Johnson.

The number of MTEA-endorsed school board members will decrease to six. Both Kelley and Brower had been endorsed by the union. The union endorsed Leonard in the uncontested District 7 race and did not issue an endorsement in the uncontested District 6 race.

Jill Underly wins Wisconsin’s Superintendent of Public Instruction election

Jill Underly defeated Deborah Kerr in the nonpartisan election for Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction on Apr. 6. Decision Desk HQ called the race at 9:15 p.m. CT, and the Associated Press called the race at 9:30 p.m. CT. With 67% of precincts reporting, Underly led with 57% of the vote to Kerr’s 43%.

Kerr and Underly had advanced to the general election with 26.5% and 27.3% of the Feb. 16 primary vote, respectively. Incumbent Carolyn Stanford Taylor, who was appointed in 2019 by the state’s current governor and former Superintendent Tony Evers (D), announced in January 2020 that she would not run for a full term.

Though the race was officially nonpartisan, both candidates were affiliated with the Democratic Party. Underly was endorsed by two former Wisconsin state superintendents, four Democratic members of Congress, and 29 Democratic members of the Wisconsin State Legislature. In her own words, Kerr she was a “pragmatic Democrat with conservative values.” She received endorsements from state Senators Alberta Darling (R) and Lena Taylor (D).

Re-implementing in-person schooling in response to the coronavirus and the allocation of school funding were central issues in the race, according to the Associated Press. Kerr said her plan would have school reopenings be mandatory across the state, and Underly said her plan for reopenings would have local school districts decide when they reopen. In regards to school funding, Kerr supported the public funding of school vouchers and charter schools, while Underly opposed the public funding of school vouchers and charter schools.

Wisconsin general election to be held April 6

The statewide general election for Wisconsin is on April 6. The primary was held on Feb. 16, and the filing deadline to run passed on Jan. 5. Candidates are running in elections for the following offices: 

• Superintendent of Public Instruction

• Special elections for state Senate District 13 and Assembly District 89

• Wisconsin Court of Appeals

Ballotpedia is also covering local elections in the following areas: 

• Dane and Milwaukee Counties

• The cities of Madison and Milwaukee

• DeForest Area School District

• Madison Metropolitan School District

• McFarland School District

• Middleton-Cross Plains School District

• Milwaukee Public Schools

• Sun Prairie Area School District

• Verona Area School District

Milwaukee is the 31st-largest city in the United States by population, while Madison is the 82nd. The seven school districts holding elections on April 6 served 132,027 students during the 2016-2017 school year.

Wisconsin has a divided government where no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the state Assembly and Senate, while Governor Tony Evers is a Democrat.

Additional Reading:

Deborah Kerr, Jill Underly running in Wisconsin State Superintendent race

Deborah Kerr and Jill Underly are running in the nonpartisan election for Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction on April 6, 2021. 

The candidates advanced as the top-two finishers from the February 16, 2021 primary. Kerr, a former school district superintendent, received 26.5% of the primary vote, and Underly, a current school district superintendent, received 27.3%. The primary saw the second-highest turnout for a Wisconsin State Superintendent race in the past 20 years.

Though the race is officially nonpartisan, both candidates are affiliated with the Democratic Party. As of March 18, Underly has been endorsed by two former Wisconsin state superintendents, four Democratic members of Congress, and 25 Democratic members of the Wisconsin State Legislature. Leading up to the primary, Kerr said she was a “pragmatic Democrat.” She has received endorsements from several local school board members and state Senator Alberta Darling (R). Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D), who served as superintendent from 2009 to 2019, has not endorsed either Underly or Kerr.

Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor, whom Evers appointed as his successor, announced on January 13, 2020, that she would not seek re-election. The decision marked the first time in 20 years that an incumbent declined to enter the race.