Know what’s on your ballot and where you’re voting
Illustration: Distorted green and blue informational flyers for the spring election, as well as a garishly colored county redistricting map, are taped to a concrete brick wall painted white with the words “Election April 5” in red block letters. The bottom of the wall is painted blue with overlapping words in beige: dane county circuit court, school board, court of appeals, county board. A red gavel hangs over a crossed out ballot box.
It’s springtime in Madison! Red winged blackbirds are returning (to my delight), strange smells and copious amounts of mud are resurfacing beneath the melting snow (to the delight of dogkind), construction season is already beginning (we shall reserve comment), and we are taking our first hesitant steps in the familiar dance of shucking—then reluctantly reclaiming—before victoriously abandoning!—layers of hats and coats and scarves. Thirty-two degrees has never felt warmer!
This spring thaw is also revealing the state of local democracy as we approach yet another springtime ritual: local elections. The April 5 ballot may seem, at first glance, underwhelming.
A brief visit to myvote.wi.gov/en-us/Whats-On-My-Ballot will confirm that there are few contested elections here in Dane County. You might not know much about the candidates, or perhaps even about the offices they are running for.
But look again! This is indeed an election to watch. We are returning to the polls for the first time since Madison and Dane County approved new district boundaries last November. Some polling place locations have changed as well. Scroll the bottom of this article for some handy links to check the above. Keep in mind that there are three elections this year: April 5, August 9 (primary before the fall election), and November 8 (midterms).
And although candidate forums this spring have been sparse, even for contested elections, there are some candidate questionnaires, interviews, and forums to look to for information about the people who could be representing you, come April.
Dane County Board
New district maps for the Dane County Board of Supervisors were approved last fall, but they won’t take effect until the new Board is sworn-in in mid-April, after the spring election. Our votes will determine the makeup of the Board before the 2023 budgeting process kicks off. All 37 seats are up for election, including 10 contested races. The Capital Times has a handy rundown of seats that could see new Supervisors this spring.
Issues to watch: When it comes to the County Board, think of issues like incarceration, PFAS contamination of our waterways, ongoing pressure to stop F-35 fighter jets from basing at Truax, and funding for health and human services—to name just a few.
Learn more: This Sunday, March 20, East Side Progressives will hold a candidate forum with candidates for east side districts 16, 17, 24, and 36. Get to know the candidates in this Q&A from the League of Women Voters of Dane County.
Board of Education
Elections for seven MMSD Board of Education seats are staggered with three-year terms. This year, seats 3, 4, and 5 are up for election. Unlike elections for Madison’s Common Council or the Dane County Board, where you vote for the candidate in the district where you live, all eligible voters within the school district vote for all seven of the school board seats.
This year, Board President Ali Muldrow is running for reelection (seat 4). Current board members Cris Carusi (seat 3), and ananda mirilli (seat 5) are not running again. Nichelle Nichols is running uncontested for seat 5. Shepherd Janeway (who will be listed on the ballot as Shepherd Joyner) and Laura Simkin are running for seat 3.
Issues to watch: Cops in schools. In interviews with Isthmus, Simkin said she supports returning school resource officers (SROs—cops) to Madison high schools. Janeway said they do not support SROs in schools. In 2020, the school board voted unanimously to end the district’s contract for SROs, after renewing it only the year before.
School boards across the country (including in Wisconsin) have become conservative targets amid policy decisions related to COVID-19, including mask requirements and virtual schooling, and a wave of right-wing bills censoring curriculum relating to race, gender and identity. Many schools are facing teacher shortages even as student needs for support are acute.
Madison is not immune. David Blaska announced a write-in campaign recycling these familiar conservative, racist talking points in a run against Muldrow, who beat him in 2019. And last fall, Mary Jo Walters announced a run for MMSD school board seat 3 on an explicitly transphobic platform. Walters withdrew from the race, but prompted Janeway, who is trans and nonbinary, to announce their own candidacy. Janeway is an artist and community organizer, and teaches arts in Madison schools through UW-Madison program Whoopensocker.
Learn more: The Capital Times and Simpson Street Free Press partnered to host a virtual forum. Madison Teachers Inc., MMSD’s teachers union, published candidate questionnaires, as did the League of Women Voters of Dane County.
Five of Dane County’s 17 Circuit Court branch judges are up for elections to a six-year term. All of these races are uncontested, and only one includes a new candidate: Diane Schlipper. Everett Mitchell, Nicholas McNamara, John Hyland, and Stephen Ehlke are running as incumbents. Here are Q&As with these candidates.
In addition to the civil and criminal cases these judges oversee, the presiding judge of the circuit court is one of six voting members of the Dane County Criminal Justice Council (CJC), with other circuit court judges serving on CJC subcommittees. The CJC is one forum for potential reforms to the criminal legal system. Last spring, Dan Fitch reported for Tone Madison on information (and the lack of information) on racial disparities and bail coming from the CJC and Judge McNamara, who is running for reelection this spring.
Incumbent Brian Blanchard is also on the ballot, uncontested, for a third six-year term on the Wisconsin District 4 Court of Appeals, which includes Dane County. Here is a Q&A with Blanchard.
If you live within Dane County but outside of Madison, you may see other local offices on your ballot. Check the League of Women Voters of Dane County website for more candidate Q&As.
In the November 2020 election, Madison residents could drop absentee ballots in drop boxes or with poll workers stationed around the city, including in more than 200 parks, as part of efforts to address demand for absentee ballots during the pandemic. Drop-boxes will not be available for the April election after Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bohren sided with “right-wing lawsuit factory” Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, ruling that absentee ballot drop-boxes are illegal in Wisconsin. It’s possible that drop-boxes will be allowed in the August and November elections, though, as the case continues to work its way through the courts.
You can vote absentee at early voting locations as soon as next Tuesday, March 22. If you need to register to vote, bring proof of residence with you.
You can also vote absentee by mail (snazzy video instructions here!). Request an absentee ballot online by 5 p.m. Thursday, March 31, and return it via mail to the Clerk’s office before election day or in-person at your polling place on the day of the election.
What’s your plan to vote on Tuesday, April 5?
When and where are you voting? How will you get there? Who will you vote for? You can ask yourself these questions, and you can also ask a friend!
Here are some links to make sure you’re registered to vote (or update your address), answer questions you might have about voter ID, preview your ballot, find your polling place or request an absentee ballot.
Union Cab Co-op will continue offering free rides to and from the polls on April 5: 608-242-2000.
Know your elected officials
You can usually find your Dane County Supervisor using an online search tool, but the County site currently directs people to instead call the Dane County Board Office at 608-266-5758.
Look up your Madison Common Council Alder using your address or on a map. See what district boundaries have changed since redistricting using this interactive map. In 2023, all Alder seats and the Mayor will be on the ballot. Interested in running for office? Check it out.
This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.