The spring election on April 4 is a crucial opportunity for voters to make their voices heard on a range of critical issues affecting Wisconsin and its residents.
Two significant referenda will be on everyone’s April ballot with potential long-term impact. The referenda that would allow courts to impose cash bail on a person accused of a violent crime would make it much more difficult for those accused to get out of jail on bail. If passed will exacerbate inequities in the criminal justice system, particularly for low-income and marginalized people unable to access funds for their release while awaiting trial. This referendum would change the state’s amendment and policies regarding cash bail. No other state incarcerates as many Black adults as Wisconsin and women behind bars are a growing number.
According to the Vera Institute of Justice, since 1980, the number of women in jail has increased 1,088% and the number of women in prison increased 897%. Women tend to have access to fewer resources and receive lower wages that can result in pretrial detention. The inability to afford bail carries severe consequences such as job loss, separation from children and family, and data show a greater likelihood of being found guilty or receiving harsher sentencing.
The other state-level referendum is advisory and asks if welfare work requirements should be imposed on able-bodied adults without children in order to maintain eligibility. Welfare work requirements can be controversial as they can unfairly burden those who are low-income and may not be able to secure stable, well-paying jobs disregarding structural barriers that exist to work and economic stability. Such policies disproportionally affect women as women all too often carry uncompensated labor. Even without children, women are more likely to have caregiving responsibilities to other family members and older folks in the community, which can make it difficult to meet work requirements.
Dane County voters will make a choice another advisory referendum on their ballot asking the Wisconsin Legislature to adopt an amendment to the constitution creating a new right to privacy that would protect rights such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and interracial marriage. City of Madison voters will get a say whether the common council should have staggered terms starting with the 2025 spring election. Voters in even-numbered alder districts would only have their representative for one year to create the break and beginning in the following Spring Election return to two-year alder terms for all districts.
Candidates from the top of the ballot through to the local races will be vying for your vote. The race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice will be one of the most expensive judicial races in history with over $9 million spent going into the Spring Primary. SCOWIS decisions upheld and affirmed voting restrictions such as voter ID laws, absentee drop box bans, and the current gerrymandered maps. There is power in your choice.
Many eligible voters do not realize they can vote and vote safely. The state has a confidential voting program. Those who are experiencing violence, abuse, stalking, or are otherwise in need of safety can register in their municipal Clerk’s Office. Confidential voter information will not appear in MyVote.wi.gov searches nor released to the public. Anyone who has completed their supervision, incarceration, or probation for a felony can register to vote and vote. Often those convicted of a felony do not realize and are not told when they are “off paper” their enfranchisement returns.
With legal battles and dis, mis, and mal information, it is important to filter the noise and go directly to the state’s website MyVote.wi.gov. for the most accurate information. On MyVote.WI.gov you can check your voter registration, apply for your absentee ballot, look up your April 4 polling place, find your early in-person absentee voting location which starts on March 21, and look up your sample ballot. The city of Madison’s Clerk’s Office welcomes voting questions and you can find more information on their website at cityofmadison.com/clerk.
Take time; carefully consider the impact of all the referenda and the candidates’ positions on these critical issues. Engage in democracy by casting your ballot on April 4 for those who support the issues that matter to you. The outcome of the spring election will have a significant impact on the future of Wisconsin for years. Statewide races in Wisconsin are won and lost by the slimmest of margins. To paraphrase the city of Madison Clerk’s Office sticker created by high school student, in partnership with the 100 Black Men of Madison, Katina Maclin, every vote truly does matter. Your vote matters, your voice matters!