Dane County voters can expect to see several referendums on their ballots next month.
Last week, W-O-R-T News reported on the binding referendum for City of Madison residents to stagger alder elections.
The ballot for Dane County voters will also feature two advisory referendums. Both seek to gauge voter interest in gerrymandering and abortion rights – two issues Democrats have presented as at stake in this spring’s Supreme Court race.
The first referendum is concerned with nonpartisan redistricting. It asks: “Should the Wisconsin Constitution be amended to require a nonpartisan system for redistricting legislative and congressional districts in the state?”
Sponsors added this referendum in a bid to address Wisconsin’s reputation as an extreme example of gerrymandering.
I had a chance to speak with one of the sponsors, Supervisor Alex Joers of District 9. Joers provided W-O-R-T listeners with more insight into the referendum: “We have one of the most gerrymandered legislatures in the country and you’ve heard and seen and likely folks know that the will of the people is often not reflected in that legislature. So, we want to make sure that folks have the ability, on this ballot, to express their views on whether or not they think that voters should have a say in selecting their elected officials or whether it should be the other way around.”
Dane County’s 2021 redistricting by way of a non-partisan commission could be a model for statewide change. The commission requested maps from the public, then narrowed the options down to three recommendations to present to the Board.
According to Joers, “I think Dane County really has stepped up in a leadership way in giving us a model to look at at the state level and nationally.”
The second referendum, Right to Privacy, asks: “Should the Wisconsin Legislature adopt an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution creating a new right to privacy that would protect rights such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and interracial marriage?”
The referendum was written in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June of 2022 and is preceded by several similar referendums. Residents in Wisconsin are currently subject to a statute that was passed in 1849. Lawmakers at that time ruled out abortion at any stage of pregnancy without exception for rape, incest, or health of the patient.
A Marquette Law School poll conducted in January of 2023 found that 35% of respondents were in favor of the Dobbs decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, while 64% were opposed. Earlier today I spoke with Supervisor Patrick Miles of District 34, who expanded on the referendum: “It goes beyond decisions about reproductive care but decisions about, you know, people’s use of contraceptives, what they do in the privacy of their own home as it relates to same-sex relationships or even interracial relationships that were – long ago – prohibited by law. And those are all things that are at risk when we think about losing the right to privacy in this manner.”
Both referendums are advisory. That means they are only included on the ballot in order to assess public opinion. According to Joers, they are a useful tool for lawmakers and voters alike, even though they do not directly affect the law: “You know we always want to make sure that we’re doing things that are in [the voters’] best interest and that the majority of folks want us to do. We’ve seen before that people are really in favor of fair, non-partisan maps so this is what we are doing in this referendum, just giving them another opportunity to say, ‘Yes, we still support fair and non-partisan maps and we really want our elected officials to take that under consideration; not only in Dane County, but at the state level as well.”
Miles is in agreement on this front: “Well, the only other thing I would say is take these questions seriously, even though they are advisory. I think they do provide good information for our state legislators to inform them in some of the positions they take moving forward.”