© 2024 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

On the ballot: State referendum questions on elections

Katie Thoresen/WXPR
People voting in Rhinelander during the November 2020 election.

Two referendum questions regarding how elections are run in Wisconsin will appear on ballots statewide April 2nd.

One asks if private funding should be excluded from supporting election administration. The other asks if anyone other than election officials should conduct elections.

Both would amend the state constitution if passed.

Republican state lawmakers tried to pass these changes as a state law, but they were vetoed by Democratic Governor Tony Evers.

No Democratic lawmakers voted in favor of putting either of these referendum questions on the ballot.

Question One: Private Funds

During the 2020 election, The Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit voting advocacy group started by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, gave $8.8 million in grants to Wisconsin’s five largest cities as part of more than $10 million it gave to over 200 communities statewide. The funds were ruled legal by a Wisconsin judge.

Republicans called them “Zuckerbucks” and argued they favored left-leaning cities.

In an effort to keep funds like this out of future elections, Republican lawmakers passed a measure to put this question on the April 2nd ballot:

QUESTION 1: "Use of private funds in election administration. Shall section 7 (1) of article III of the constitution be created to provide that private donations and grants may not be applied for, accepted, expended, or used in connection with the conduct of any primary, election, or referendum?"

If passed by voters, it would amend the constitution to add this wording:

“Section 7 (1) No state agency or officer or employee in state government and no political subdivision of the state or officer or employee of a political subdivision may apply for, accept, expend, or use any moneys or equipment in connection with the conduct of any primary, election, or referendum if the moneys or equipment are donated or granted by an individual or nongovernmental entity.”

If this referendum question fails, the change would not be made to the state constitution.

Question Two: Election officials

The second question was also spurred by the 2020 election. There was concern that people or groups, particularly in Green Bay, were influencing how elections were run.

This is the second question as it will appear on the ballot:

QUESTION 2: "Election officials. Shall section 7 (2) of article III of the constitution be created to provide that only election officials designated by law may perform tasks in the conduct of primaries, elections, and referendums?

If passed by voters, it would amend the state constitution with this wording:

“(2) No individual other than an election official designated by law may perform any task in the conduct of any primary, election, or referendum.”

If this referendum question fails, the change would not be made to the state constitution.

What are different groups saying about the questions?

Common Cause Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck says his group hopes people vote no on both questions.

“Because most people don't understand them [the questions]. They'll just say, ‘Well, that sounds reasonable’, and they'll vote for them,” said Heck. “That's what the proponents are counting on is that what people will just say, ‘Fine, this looks fine to me.’ We just don't think that's a good way to make law, or to put things that actually hinder elections, rather than promote them.”

Heck says a partisan measure shouldn’t be added to the constitution.

“We think local officials should be able to handle the administration of elections in their areas and not have something enshrined in the constitution, partisan measures, simply because one party doesn't particularly like elections,” said Heck.

Heck worries these constitutional amendments would hinder the “ability of Wisconsinites to participate in fair and free elections.” He also says if they’re passed and then people decide it was the wrong decision, it’s much harder to reverse them if they’re in the state constitution.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty supports both measures.

Research Director Will Flanders believes they’ll make elections more secure.

“We have over 140 amendments to the Wisconsin Constitution. Some are of a really high quality, and some are not. Some of them are reversed over time,” said Flanders. “But I think, again, because this involves election integrity, which is a vital sort of part of our political process, this is absolutely something that's worth looking into a constitutional amendment for.”

Flanders pointed out that 27 other states have passed similar laws since 2020, a couple of which are divided Governments like Wisconsin.

Flanders says there is reason for people on both sides of the political aisle to support these changes to the constitution.

One example he gave was Republicans didn’t like a foundation created by Mark Zuckerberg giving grants to Wisconsin cities to support election administration during the pandemic, but he doesn’t believe Democrats would like it if a foundation associated with the NRA or Elon Musk did something similar.

“We think no matter where you fall, we shouldn't have billionaires funding our election administration process around the state of Wisconsin,” said Flanders.

While the two groups disagree about whether the constitution should be amended in this way, both say there should be conversations about how to properly fund elections in the state.

Have I seen these questions before?

The questions may look familiar to some Northwoods voters.

Lincoln and Price County voters both had a similar advisory referendum question in the 2022 Midterm election. Both counties passed it with at least 80% of the votes.

The Oneida County Board passed an advisory resolution in 2022insisting that private donations not be used for election administration.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
Up North Updates
* indicates required
Related Content