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Cash bail constitutional amendment will stay on Wisconsin ballot this spring

2 groups filed a lawsuit asking for an injunction on two Republican-backed ballot questions

Madison City County Building
Madison’s City-County Building appears in a file photo. Michelle Johnson/WPR

Two ballot initiatives will continue to be on Wisconsin voters’ ballots this April, after a judge denied a request to push them off for a year.

Last week, Dane County Circuit Judge Rhonda Lanford heard arguments in a lawsuit from two social justice organizations over two Republican-backed ballot questions. The groups argued that the Wisconsin Elections Commission sent the initiatives to county clerks a day past the deadline required under state law.

One initiative would amend the state Constitution’s approach to imposing cash bail on people charged with committing violent crimes. The other is a nonbinding referendum asking whether to require “childless, able-bodied adults” to search for employment while receiving public benefits.

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In her decision, Lanford wrote that the Legislature had “substantially” complied with the law when it sent the language of the ballot measures to the Elections Commission.

The two groups — EXPO Wisconsin, which organizes formerly incarcerated people, and WISDOM, a faith-based organization — filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court on Jan. 31 to challenge the ballot initiatives.

In court on Feb. 14, lawyers for the social justice groups argued that, by missing the deadline, the state had denied the groups enough time to educate voters and organize in opposition. They asked for a year injunction on the measures, which would mean they wouldn’t appear before voters until 2024.

Lawyers for the Commission and for the Legislature said that Wisconsin voters would be denied the right to weigh in on important matters if the ballot questions were postponed.

Lanford said in her decision that WEC’s delay in submitting the questions to county clerks — the officials who write up ballots and officially administer state elections — had not caused them harm, or otherwise hurt the election administration process.

Voters will decide on the questions April 4.