Madison voting guide: Wisconsin Supreme Court, mayor and more | Government |

2023-03-23 15:06:01 By : Ms. Lin Li

Wisconsinites on April 4 will cast ballots in a series of elections, the outcomes of which could have major implications for their day-to-day lives. In Madison, that includes electing a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, the city’s next mayor, a slate of City Council members and a pair of Madison School Board members.

Early, in-person voting started Tuesday in Madison and will be available until April 2. There are 28 early voting sites available to Madisonians, including the city’s Central Library downtown and Olbrich Gardens on the east side. A full list of early voting locations can be found on the City Clerk’s website.

Voting by mail also remains available to Madisonians. To request a ballot by mail, voters can visit If voters want to cast their ballots by mail, election officials suggest requesting an absentee ballot as soon as possible to allow ample time for voters to receive their ballots and mail them back. The postal service recommends mailing your ballot back at least seven days before Election Day, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Ballots cast by mail must be returned to municipal clerks by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. Mail ballots need to be returned to clerks’ offices by mail or in-person.

Ballots cannot be submitted using unstaffed ballot drop boxes. While Madison has 14 of the drop boxes spread across the city, they are locked and now decorated with artwork because the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in July that returning ballots in this manner violated state law.

Voters can find out what’s on their ballot by visiting Read on to learn more about the stakes of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, the Madison mayoral contest, the Madison City Council races, the Madison School Board elections and statewide and Madison referendums.

Next month’s Supreme Court election once again places America’s Dairyland at a political crossroads: Will Wisconsin continue its current grind of political deadlock? Or will a shift in the balance of the court upend the dominant Republican policies of the last decade?

The race pits liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County judge, against Daniel Kelly, a conservative former justice on the state Supreme Court. The outcome of the race will determine ideological control of the high court, where conservatives hold a 4-3 majority.

If Protasiewicz emerges victorious, the state could experience a period of political upheaval. A flurry of lawsuits challenging several of the court’s controversial decisions could work their way before the hypothetical liberal majority — the court’s first since 2008. That includes potential challenges to Wisconsin’s gerrymandered legislative maps, the state law (Act 10) that limits the influence of public-sector labor unions and the decision outlawing unstaffed absentee ballot drop boxes.

Protasiewicz has campaigned as an outspoken supporter of abortion access, running TV ads boasting that she “believes in abortion rights.” While the Milwaukee County judge says she hasn’t reviewed a case filed in Dane County by Attorney General Josh Kaul seeking to block enforcement of Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban, its success becomes more likely with Protasiewicz on the high court.

Protasiewicz has also called the state’s legislative districts “rigged.” According to nonpartisan experts, the districts are among the most gerrymandered of any voting maps in the country, and have locked in almost veto-proof Republican majorities in both the Assembly and state Senate.

“I would anticipate that I would enjoy taking a fresh look at the gerrymandering question,” Protasiewicz said on a recent episode of “Wedge Issues,” the Cap Times’ politics podcast.

The state's statewide elections, split almost evenly between Democrat and Republican voters, are not reflected in the Legislature, controlled by the GOP, she said.

If Kelly wins and conservatives keep their 4-3 majority, Wisconsinites can expect much of the same from the state Supreme Court. Conservative efforts that work their way before the court could often succeed, though Justice Brian Hagedorn sometimes breaks with fellow conservatives to vote with the three liberal justices.

Kelly, who calls himself a “constitutional conservative” or “constitutionalist,” served on the state’s high court from August 2016 to August 2020. He was appointed to the court by Republican former Gov. Scott Walker but lost by 160,000 votes in 2020 to liberal Justice Jill Karofsky.

The former justice has offered sharp criticism of Protasiewicz for campaigning on her personal values. On an episode of “Wedge Issues,” released earlier this month, Kelly declared that “there's enough room on the (state) Supreme Court for the Constitution, or for my opponent, but not both.”

“My opponent has made it abundantly clear that her plan, if she's elected, is to put herself above the law.”

Kelly has pledged to “use the existing law to decide the cases that come before the court, and nothing else.”

Wisconsin voters will weigh in on two changes to the state Constitution, and Madison residents will vote on an ordinance change.

Question 1: “Shall section 8 (2) of article I of the constitution be amended to allow a court to impose on an accused person being released before conviction conditions that are designed to protect the community from serious harm?”

A “yes” vote would approve an effort from lawmakers to broaden a judge's authority to detain people before trial. Under current law, defendants are eligible for pretrial release under conditions the judge determines will assure they appear in court, prevent the intimidation of witnesses and protect members of the community from “serious bodily harm.” The amendment would change “serious bodily harm” to just “serious harm.”

“Serious harm” is not defined in the amendment. Instead, lawmakers are working to approve a standalone bill – that must be approved by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers – that would define serious harm as “personal physical pain or injury, illness, any impairment of physical condition, or death, including mental anguish or emotional harm attendant to the personal physical pain or injury, illness or death; damage to property over $2,500 in value; or economic loss over $2,500 in value.”

The second question would broaden the factors a judge could take into consideration when imposing cash bail on someone accused of a violent crime. “Violent crime” is not defined in the amendment. The same standalone bill would define “violent crime” as a violation of more than a dozen state statutes, including several variations of homicides, sexual assault and physical abuse of a child, as well as other crimes like watching a cockfight, dog fight or bullfight.

Question 2: “Shall section 8 (2) of article I of the constitution be amended to allow a court to impose cash bail on a person accused of a violent crime based on the totality of the circumstances, including the accused's previous convictions for a violent crime, the probability that the accused will fail to appear, the need to protect the community from serious harm and prevent witness intimidation, and potential affirmative defenses?”

Under current law, a judge can impose cash bail only if they believe the defendant might not appear at their next court date. A “yes” vote would allow a judge to consider previous convictions for a violent crime and the need to protect the community from “serious harm,” among other things, in addition to whether the defendant will appear at their next court date.

Critics of the cash bail amendment argue it won't make communities safer, and will result in more low-income people incarcerated in county jails while awaiting trial dates. Wealthier people accused of violent crimes, critics say, will still be able to post bail, regardless of the change.

A third, non-binding advisory referendum will also appear on the ballot. It will ask Wisconsin voters whether they think able-bodied, childless adults should “be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits?”

Those requirements already exist in state law. Democrats have accused Republicans of including the question to boost turnout for conservative Supreme Court candidate Daniel Kelly.

Local referendum question: “Shall the Charter Ordinances of the City of Madison be amended to establish staggered two-year terms for members of the Common Council beginning in 2025, with the 2025 Spring Election including one-year terms for alders in even-numbered Districts and subsequent elections the term for all alders shall be two years?”

Currently, alder terms last two years with elections for all districts happening every other year, in odd-numbered years. If passed, the binding referendum would stagger alder terms, with council members in even-numbered districts up for election in even-numbered years and those in odd-numbered districts up for election in odd-numbered years.

Any changes to the size or terms of the council must be made by binding referendum, so if the majority of voters vote yes, the change will take effect starting with the 2025 spring election.

— Jack Kelly and Allison Garfield

Incumbent Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway will face Gloria Reyes in Madison’s April mayoral election after months of the two battling it out in contentious debates.

Rhodes-Conway, who was elected in 2019 and is the city’s first openly gay mayor, easily advanced through the February primary, receiving nearly 60% of the votes — around 43,100 — while Reyes, a former Madison School Board president, deputy mayor under former Mayor Paul Soglin and law enforcement officer, garnered 28%, or 20,200. Since the primary, Reyes has tried to make up ground, reaching out to communities she believes are less listened to, making more calls, knocking on doors and planning coffee events, Reyes’ campaign said. Reyes, who has Mexican heritage, would be the first person of color to serve as the city’s mayor if elected.

Both Rhodes-Conway and Reyes have focused on issues such as housing, zoning, transportation and public safety, all with a focus on equity. While Rhodes-Conway has touted her accomplishments in office, like advancing bus rapid transit and doubling the affordable housing budget, Reyes has stood out by supporting viewpoints from residents most upset about recent city policies, like changes promoting transit-oriented development in the city’s historic districts.

Reyes’ has called the bus rapid transit (BRT) system inequitable, arguing it won’t reach some residents who need the service most, and said she’ll reconsider its funding if elected to office. Additionally, she has accused Rhodes-Conway of leaving the public out of the process when it comes to decisions on zoning and housing density.

Her list of priorities, if elected, is: closing the city’s budget gap she contended was caused by bus rapid transit, implementing body cameras for police officers and addressing zoning issues that she says create real estate speculation.

Rhodes-Conway has stood by her choices and is asking residents to give her four more years to get more done after the pandemic interfered with her plans for her first term.

While Rhodes-Conway has accumulated a long list of endorsements — including state Rep. Mark Pocan, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and 13 current Madison alders  — Reyes has grown her support to include other key community leaders like Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett, longtime Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney and Soglin, the former three-time mayor.

The most recent campaign finance records from early February showed Reyes still facing a fundraising deficit compared with Rhodes-Conway. Despite the two starting the finance period with close to the same amount — Reyes with $15,831 and Rhodes-Conway with $16,929 — Rhodes-Conway dramatically raised and spent more.

Monday, March 27, 7-8 p.m.

Hosted by Eric Franke and Naomi Kowles of WISC-TV and Allison Garfield of the Cap Times

See it live on or, or via the taped broadcast on WISC-TV at 4 p.m. March 28, 2023.

From Jan. 1 to Feb. 6, the mayor raised nearly $40,000 ahead of the primary from individual and committee contributions, with the largest donations coming from two PACs outside of Madison. LPAC, based in Washington, D.C., works to elect and increase representation for LGBTQ+ women, and donated $5,000 to Rhodes-Conway’s campaign, and HNTB, based in Kansas City, an employee-owned infrastructure and construction company, contributed $2,000. 

Rhodes-Conway’s campaign spent $47,710 during the period and ended with $8,381 cash on-hand. Meanwhile, Reyes raised $17,535 and spent only $4,564, with $28,802 at the end of the period.

Residents have raised concerns in almost every mayoral debate so far about new zoning regulations and the effect they will have on single family neighborhoods, especially in terms of real estate development and converting houses into denser multi-family rentals.

Despite their differing stances on the issue, both candidates have received donations from local real estate developers, according to the February campaign finance records — $3,000 total for Rhodes-Conway and $4,255 total for Reyes. Madison’s Gebhardt Development provided Reyes’ largest campaign contribution at $2,000.

The two candidates will file their last campaign finance reports March 27.

On the same day, the week before the April 4 election, the Cap Times and WISC-TV/Channel 3000 will co-sponsor a mayoral debate to be streamed live online at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 27, and then broadcast in full at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 28, as part of the CBS station’s on-air programming.

Madison’s City Council, made up of 20 members, will see a major shakeup in April with all seats up for reelection.

“Rarely in recent history has an election for the council featured so many contested races, so many incumbent alders facing one another, so many incumbents facing strong challengers and so many prospects for change,” wrote the Cap Times’ editorial board.

In Districts 3, 8, 12, 15 and 19, no incumbent is running, meaning that, at the very least, a quarter of the next council will be made of members who did not serve on the last council. Newcomers are bringing fresh energy and insight to council contests.

Ald. Regina Vidaver is running unopposed in District 5, as are Alds. Nasra Wehelie in District 7, Bill Tishler in District 11, Tag Evers in District 13 and Sabrina Madison in District 17.

You can learn more about those candidates on the interactive map below.

In District 1, newcomer John Duncan is running unopposed. Duncan, 42, is a manager of Provider Network Contracting at Dean Health Plan.

In downtown District 2 current Ald. Juliana Bennett will face Colin Barushok, a legislative assistant in the state Senate focusing on constituent casework and policy development.

Bennett, who currently represents District 8, said she is running on her record over the past two years of “championing” community issues like affordable housing, equitable transportation and violence prevention. Barushok also is focusing on housing in his campaign.

Two newcomers will battle it out to represent the far east side District 3. Derek Field, 29, a state employee in human services policy, is on the ballot with Matt Van Eperen, 27, a contracts negotiator with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Field said he’d work to add more housing supply, and also work on measures to slow traffic. Van Eperen wants to ensure economic prosperity and equity by ensuring housing security and safety.

Ald. Mike Verveer, the current council member who has served the longest at 28 years, is facing student challenger Maxwell Laubenstein in downtown District 4.

Laubenstein, 21, is a biological systems engineering student at UW-Madison and employee at Sookie's Veggie Burgers. He told the Cap Times that, as an organizer and active progressive, he is more directly involved in the community than his opponent.

Verveer said he is focusing on his campaign despite being targeted by spray-painted graffiti on more than two dozen downtown buildings.

“I am proud of my accomplishments and would like the opportunity to continue the privilege of working on behalf of downtown Madison residents,” Verveer said.

In District 6, Marsha Rummel, 65, a tax specialist, is facing Davy Mayer, 47, a web operations manager at UW-Madison. With so much turnover bound to happen, Rummel — who is not currently an alder but previously served as one for 14 years — said her experience “will be urgently needed.” Mayer has served as the vice president of the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Association and said his time “behind the scenes” will help him guide the growth of District 6.

In District 8, two students will go head to head — MGR Govindarajan, 21, a first-generation college student vs. Charlie Fahey; both serve as executive board members of the Campus Area Neighborhood Association. Fahey said he is running to support affordable housing. Govindarajan, similarly, spoke about students being forced into signing leases in early October and November without the chance to review management, services or even the living situation itself.

Ald. Nikki Conklin is running for reelection in District 9 against Nino Amato, a recently retired executive in the nonprofit, government and private sectors. Conklin said some of the most important issues in the district are the rapid population growth, affordable housing options, crime and safety, and the Sauk Creek Greenway. Amato said his priorities would be to invest in neighborhood policing and mental health intervention services, listen to residents’ concerns and protect city greenery.

Two current alders, Yannette Figueroa Cole and Sheri Carter, will face each other on the ballot to represent District 10. Figueroa Cole currently represents the district and Carter now lives within its boundaries because of redistricting.

Figueroa Cole said she remains committed to violence prevention, street infrastructure changes to reduce speeding and fatalities, increased public participation and transparency, and support for the CARES program, a law-enforcement alternative for behavioral health crises. Carter, who currently serves District 14, said she supports public safety, homelessness services, eviction prevention, affordable housing options, preservation of historical sites and upgrades to public transportation.

Amani Latimer Burris and Julia Matthews are on the ballot in District 12. Latimer Burris, 53, is an advising assistant to activist Opal Lee. She called District 12, one of Madison’s most diverse areas, an “epicenter of the future,” and said she wants to focus on transportation, public safety and environmental issues.

Matthews, 30, is a research programmer analyst at UW-Madison's Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention. She said increasing transportation access to the north side of the district will be important in the coming years after the city’s metro redesign, as well as expanding noise mitigation efforts for F35s, the military's newest fighter jet expected to land at Truax Field this spring.

In District 14, Isadore Knox Jr., 67, an equal opportunity/diversity management retiree will appear on the ballot alongside Noah Lieberman, 28, a technical services analyst at Epic Systems.

Liberman said it is “unfathomable” that so many elected officials and candidates are willing to pursue half-measures that further the status quo, and argued the city needs alders “willing to pursue bold, creative solutions. Knox Jr. said he plans to promote responsive city services, public safety accountability, senior and youth services, affordable housing options, accessible transportation and more.

Bradley Hinkfuss, executive director at the nonprofit Housing Initiatives Inc., will face small business owner and comedian Dina Nina Martinez Rutherford to represent District 15.

Hinkfuss said his work in housing and homelessness has given him a deep understanding and compassion for those who struggle to make ends meet, and that he will be dedicated to cultivating local participation if elected. Martinez Rutherford, who is transgender, said she believes Madison can be a wonderful place to live, but too many people are being priced out.

“As someone who knows what it's like to prioritize rent over caring for my own body, I know the importance of having a voice at the table,” she said.

Ald. Jael Currie is running for reelection in District 16 against challenger Kim Richman, who volunteers as a crossing guard in Monona and recently retired from sales and marketing. Currie, 35, a social worker and the housing director at YWCA Madison, said public safety and public health continue to be among the top concerns for District 16 constituents. Richman said his goal is to make city government more user-friendly, transparent and accountable.

In District 18, Michelle Ellinger Linley, the founder and family care coordinator of Madison Newborn Care, will challenge incumbent Ald. Charles Myadze, a product tester at the Goodyear Plant in Sun Prairie. Myadze said, if reelected, he will continue to move the Raemisch Farm project forward, fight to create more affordable housing and for equity in Madison’s public transportation system.  Ellinger Linley said she will focus on the north side’s most pressing issues: supporting small businesses, keeping families in their homes and keeping neighborhoods safe and healthy.

Kristen Slack, a social work professor at UW-Madison, and John Guequierre, a consultant for affordable housing and energy-efficient structures, will be on the ballot in District 19. Slack said she doesn’t think the city is “doing nearly enough when it comes to protecting and improving what makes Madison a unique and beautiful place — our local lakes, prairies and green spaces.”

Guequierre said the next round of alders will need to work to sustain multi-year plans, like for city watersheds, Vision Zero, transit-oriented development and area plans.

Council members Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1, and Matt Phair, the current alder, will vie for a seat representing District 20. Just five votes separated the two in the February primary and they are running on similar platforms. Phair told the Cap Times that neighborhood safety, traffic calming, equitable investment into affordable housing, and after-school and other youth programming are top priorities for District 20 residents. Harrington-McKinney did not respond to the Cap Times’ questions, but her campaign website states her top goals are public safety, creating more housing options and opportunities, and transparent city government.

The seven-member Madison School Board will welcome one new member in late April.

Either Blair Feltham or Badri Lankella will become part of a group that will almost immediately face what could be the most important decision a School Board makes: hiring a new superintendent.

Superintendent Carlton Jenkins plans to retire this summer. He announced the decision Feb. 6, more than a month after the School Board candidates had been finalized and incumbent Christina Gomez Schmidt had decided not to run for reelection. Feltham and Lankella are competing to fill Gomez Schmidt’s seat on the board.

The winning candidate will join a board that includes three members who selected Jenkins in 2020 and three others who are in their first term.

Feltham or Lankella will be thrust into the middle of a challenging budget cycle that features uncertainty about how much money the district will be able to spend, high inflation, declining enrollment and ongoing staff shortages. Both believe their experience can help navigate it all.

Feltham is a former Madison Metropolitan School District educator who now works as an administrator in the Sun Prairie Area School District, helping staff implement equity into their work.

“I have lots of lived experience in public schools, which is a perspective that I think is important if you’re talking about governance,” Feltham said in an interview last month. “There are not easy, straightforward answers about what to do in school; if there were, we would be doing them.

“I’m hoping that I can bring that lived experience, that perspective and that real, deep knowledge (of) how schools actually work to the board.”

Lankella previously ran for City Council and has served on a variety of committees and his neighborhood association board, where he helped balance the group’s budget. His campaign is centered on the “three Cs” of collaboration, competitiveness and capital.

“That is the number one goal that I have is to make the school system more competitive,” Lankella said. “(I don’t mean only) competitive in the courses that we’re taking or the clubs we’re doing. I’m saying competitive in every aspect.

“We need to be the best funded school, we need the best teachers.”

Other than choosing the district’s next leader, the year ahead is likely to include decisions on a middle school literacy curriculum, safety and student wellness initiatives and long-debated honors programming at the high schools. The district is also working on revising its strategic framework and a new three-year special education plan, which follows a critical report on special education programming from 2021.

Recently, MMSD officials have faced repeated criticism over a lack of transparency, with multiple lawsuits over open records delays and the “No Friend of Openness Award” from the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. Some have suggested transparency and better communication are key to rebuilding trust in the community.

Nicki Vander Meulen’s Seat 7 is also up for election, but she is the only candidate on the ballot. It will be her third term on the board.

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