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‘A long time coming’: Wisconsin voters ready to cast their ballots in spring election

Abortion was top of mind for many voters in state Supreme Court race, but some Wisconsinites say local school boards, referendums are also top issues

A woman holding a baby smiles as she reaches for a ballot.
Madison resident Emily Sperka receives a ballot before voting Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Steady streams of voters made their way to polling places around Wisconsin on Tuesday to cast their ballots in the high-profile Wisconsin Supreme Court race, on three statewide referendums and in many local elections across the state.

In La Crosse, Abby Von Arx stopped by her polling place before heading to work at a school in the District of La Crosse. She said voting on the four open school board seats and the school district’s budget referendum were the most important issues for her on this year’s ballot. The $60 million budget increase for operations and maintenance is a more modest ask from the district than the $194.7 million referendum La Crosse voters rejected last fall.

But Von Arx said she was also drawn by the state Supreme Court race and the fact that whoever is elected will likely hear a legal challenge to Wisconsin’s pre-Civil War abortion ban.

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“(The election) will definitely have an impact on women’s health and reproductive rights and that’s a huge issue not only in our state but in our country,” she said. “Being both a woman and the mother of a daughter, it’s really important to me that we have the freedom to make our own health care choices.”

Von Arx said many people in her social circles voted early or were planning to turn out to cast their ballots.

A sign on the side of a voting divider says
Madison resident Inez Baskerville votes Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at Majestic Theatre in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Tony Gerke, a voter on the northside of La Crosse, said the issue of abortion rights was also top of mind for him in this year’s election. Gerke said he likes to vote in every election, but the issues at stake has made this year’s vote feel even more important.

“People should come out and voice their opinion and stay sane,” he said. “Our process works, it’s worked for a long time. Just don’t overthink it and vote who you want.”

Cheryl Crawford said she disliked the influx of negative ads from both sides in the state Supreme Court race. The messaging was fueled by the millions spent by the candidates and their supporters in this year’s race, which smashed spending records for a judicial election.

“Don’t tell me what the other person did wrong, tell me what you’re going to do right,” Crawford said.

Crawford said the attacks pointing out alleged failures in each of the candidate’s previous jobs did have some impact on how she voted. But she said the La Crosse school board race was the main reason she cast her ballot in Tuesday’s election and in the February primary.

Crawford said she wasn’t aware of the three statewide referendums on the ballot before going in to vote, including two questions that would amend Wisconsin’s Constitution to expand criteria judges are directed to use when setting cash bail. But she said she appreciated getting to weigh in on the issues.

Madison voters turn out to support abortion rights, say election was ‘a long time coming’

Outside the Majestic Theatre polling place in downtown Madison, at least 50 voters cast a ballot by 9:30 a.m.

Julieann Hoffarth said she usually votes early, but opted to vote Tuesday because she “wanted to be with the people today and the women.”

Among the issues she’s voting on: “My health care rights, my right to choose, my right to decide my fate and my future.”

Hoffarth said she’s in her upper 50s and was “blown away” that abortion is a top issue in this year’s race. She said she never thought the right to abortion would be overturned and that she’s “very disappointed in the Democrats for not sealing the deal on this.”

The marquee outside of a theater says
A sign outside of Majestic Theatre encourages voting Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Edward Damisch, 33, said the right to abortion and the state’s political district maps are the most important issues for him in this year’s election. Damisch said he’s “feeling pretty good” about the election, adding there’s a lot of voter enthusiasm among liberals.

Iva Petrova said she’s been involved in politics her whole life and said “voting is extremely important, especially in this election.” She works for a legislator in the state Capitol.

Petrova named abortion, fair maps and voting rights as some of the top issues at stake in the state Supreme Court race.

“I think our current abortion ban is archaic,” she said. “It was put in place before women even had the right to vote. And so it’s time to see it overturned. Women deserve the rights that we had before Roe was overturned.”

She said the election was “a long time coming” and will feel relieved when it’s over.

A man reaches down to grab a sticker from a table.
Madison resident David Baskerville grabs a sticker while voting Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at Majestic Theatre in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Brookfield voters say state Supreme Court race will impact more than just abortion rights

Voters steadily streamed into the Brookfield Conference Center to vote Tuesday morning.

Katie Ryan, who has lived in Brookfield for a little over a year, said this is her first time voting in a state Supreme Court race. Ryan said she supports abortion rights and “the biggest thing on my mind is women’s rights and our ability to make decisions for our own bodies.”

She also said the court has the potential to impact next year’s presidential race.

“The fact that they could potentially try to overturn the outcome if they don’t like what it is in 2024 … obviously our political climate is insane right now. So trying to keep democracy intact is very important,” she said.

Four voters lean over as they fill out their ballots behind dividers that say
Voters fill out ballots Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at Majestic Theatre in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Rebecca, who declined to give her last name, said voting for the Elmbrook School Board was the top issue for her on Tuesday’s ballot. She has a child enrolled in the district and said she wants to “make sure that his education is consistent with my values.”

Rebecca said weighing in on the state Supreme Court race was also important for her. She feels there are significant “philosophical and ideological differences between the candidates.”

“I want somebody that’s consistent with my values,” she said. “I want my rights protected as a human being and as a woman. I don’t like some of the rhetoric and some of the things that have been put out related to some of the candidates. So I have concerns with how I’ll be represented.”

Polls will remain open across the state until 8 p.m. Tuesday. Any voter in line at 8 p.m. will be able to vote.

Editor’s note: WPR’s Evan Casey and Angela Major contributed to this report. This story has been updated to reflect that there are four open seats on the La Crosse School Board.