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Wisconsin’s April 4 election: A voter’s guide to candidates, issues

The spring 2023 election includes a hotly contested state Supreme Court seat and 3 statewide referendum questions

The two candidates stand at podiums on stage. A sign for the State Bar of Wisconsin hangs behind them.
Judge Janet Protasiewicz, left, and Justice Dan Kelly, right, participate in a debate Tuesday, March 21, 2023, at the State Bar Center in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsinites are heading to the polls to weigh in on an open state Supreme Court seat, three statewide referendums and a host of local candidates.

Here’s what voters need to know before they cast their ballots.

Wisconsin Supreme Court

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Although the race is officially nonpartisan, Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal, could shift the court’s ideological balance if she beats conservative former state Justice Daniel Kelly for a 10-year term.

The race has attracted national attention, and it’s smashed spending records for a judicial election.

On the candidates:

Janet Protasiewicz has campaigned on Democratic issues. If she wins, the Wisconsin Supreme Court could weigh in on them

Dan Kelly says his politics don’t matter in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race. Supporters say Republican priorities hang in the balance.

On the issues:

The Supreme Court could prove crucial to challenging Republican-drawn political districts that have been described as among the country’s most gerrymandered

With a challenge to Wisconsin’s abortion ban likely headed to the court, the winner of this race could decide whether abortion is legal in the state

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates dispute one another’s impartiality

Janet Protasiewicz is seen from the side standing at a podium. Dan Kelly points at his head as he looks her way while answering a question.
Justice Dan Kelly, right, speaks to Judge Janet Protasiewicz, left, during a debate Tuesday, March 21, 2023, at the State Bar Center in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Statewide referendums

Questions 1 and 2 on statewide ballots would amend Wisconsin’s Constitution to expand criteria judges are directed to use when setting cash bail and other conditions that someone has to comply with to be released from jail before trial. A third non-binding question asks Wisconsinites their opinion on whether able-bodied adults should be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits.

Why is Wisconsin’s bail proposal split into two ballot questions?

From cash bail to public benefits: What Wisconsin voters need to know about April 4 referendums

A crucial election for the state Senate

In southeast Wisconsin, Republican Rep. Dan Knodl and Democrat Jodi Habush Sinykin are competing for a District 8 state Senate seat that was vacated by a retirement.

The special election in an increasingly competitive district will determine whether Republicans secure a two-thirds majority in one chamber of the state Legislature.

Mayoral elections

A host of local elections are dotting ballots across Wisconsin, including races for city councils and school boards.

Click here to preview what’s on your ballot, and check out Wisconsin Public Radio’s coverage of mayoral match-ups in some of Wisconsin’s largest cities:


Satya Rhodes-Conway, Gloria Reyes face off in race for Madison mayor

Green Bay

Winner of Green Bay mayor’s race could be the tie-breaking vote on city issues if trends continue

Both of Green Bay’s mayoral candidates received threats ahead of April 4 election


Racine’s mayoral candidates offer differing views on how to address crime, public safety

A man wears a hat with a U.S. flag pattern and writes with a pen with a flag attached as he votes at a booth with a flag decoration.
Kevin Griffith fills out a ballot Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, at the Village of Waukesha Municipal Complex. Angela Major/WPR

How to vote

Polls are open across Wisconsin from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and people in line by 8 get to vote. You’ll need to bring a photo ID to get your ballot. Find your polling place here.

If you aren’t registered already, you have until 8 p.m. on election day to register to vote at your polling place.

Absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. April 4 in order to count, so it’s too late to put yours in the mail. But you still have time to return your completed absentee ballot in person. Follow the instructions that came with your ballot to return it to your local clerk’s office, polling place or central count location.