Dane County judge approves Republican-backed ballot questions for April

By: - February 21, 2023 5:45 am
Voting sign in school

Photo by Isiah Holmes

Two referendum questions set to appear on the April ballot got a green light  from a Dane County judge. One of the Republican-backed measures is non-binding and asks whether able-bodied, childless welfare recipients should be required to look for work. The other would amend the Wisconsin Constitution to allow judges to take a person’s past criminal convictions into account when setting bail. The measure would also allow the Republican-dominated Legislature to define what it considers “violent” crimes.

The bail referendum question especially has been used as a political lightning rod for over a year. That momentum, however, was nearly derailed after the questions arrived to county clerks a day late. State law requires that county clerks receive an initiative 70 days in advance of its appearance on the ballot. In this case, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) sent the initiatives to county clerks on Jan. 26, a day after that 70 day deadline.

A lawsuit brought by  Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO), and the interfaith coalition WISDOM aimed to push the ballot referenda off until 2024, giving organizers more time to rally their supporters to oppose them.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Rhonda Lanford approved the questions for the April ballot. Lanford stated that the groups hadn’t met the legal requirements needed for the court to intervene. Dan Lenz, an attorney for EXPO and Wisdom in this lawsuit, said he’d be discussing next steps with his clients. The Associated Press reported that Lenz didn’t comment on whether the groups will attempt to appeal the decision. If they don’t, then the referendum questions will appear on the April ballot.


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.