Wisconsin held its 2023 spring general election on April 4. Spring elections in Wisconsin are officially nonpartisan and include offices such as judges, mayors, local legislative bodies, and school boards. Several notable races and referenda were on the ballot this year.
Wisconsin Supreme Court
In the race for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz defeated former Justice Daniel Kelly. The results were as follows:
- Janet Protasiewicz: 55.5%
- Daniel Kelly: 45.5%
Justice Patience Roggensack, a judicial conservative and former chief justice of the court, did not seek reelection and will retire at the end of her current term on July 31. Judicial conservatives currently enjoy a 4-3 majority on Wisconsin’s elected supreme court; this will switch in favor of judicial liberals when Protasiewicz takes office on August 1. During the election, Protasiewicz positioned herself as a judicial liberal, while Kelly ran as a judicial conservative. Kelly and Protasiewicz were the top two finishers in a four-way primary election.
The race was hotly contested, marked by issues including abortion and legislative redistricting. The race attracted a significant amount of national media attention and outside spending. According to a WisPolitics report, the candidates and outside groups spent more than $45 million over the course of the race, triple the previous national record. The previous record for political spending in a state judicial race, $15.2 million, was set in a 2004 supreme court race in Illinois.
8th Senate District Special Election
Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) defeated Jodi Habush Sinykin (D-Whitefish Bay) in a special election in the 8th Senate District. The results were as follows:
- Dan Knodl: 50.9%
- Jodi Habush Sinykin: 49.1%
Rep. Knodl’s victory will give Republicans a two-thirds, veto-proof majority of 22 out of 33 members in the Senate. Republicans are just shy of two-thirds control of the Assembly with 64 out of 99 members. Upon taking office in the Senate, Knodl will vacate the 24th Assembly District; another special election will be held to fill that office.
Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) retired late last year in the middle of her eighth term, leaving the 8th Senate District vacant. To fill the vacancy, Gov. Evers ordered a special election coinciding with the spring election. The winner will serve the remainder of Sen. Darling’s four-year term. The seat will be up for election again in November 2024.
Rep. Knodl has served in the Assembly since 2009. Habush Sinykin is an attorney whose career has focused on environmental law. Rep. Knodl defeated two other Republican candidates in the primary election on February 21, while Habush Sinykin did not face a Democratic challenger.
The 8th Senate District covers a mostly suburban area north and northwest of the City of Milwaukee. It is a Republican-leaning district that U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R) won with 54.2% of the vote in 2022, while Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels won the district more narrowly with 51.5% of the vote.
Voters approved three ballot measures, two of which will amend provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution. The third was an advisory referendum that will not change state law. The results were as follows:
“Conditions of release before conviction. Shall section 8 (2) of article I of the constitution be amended to allow a court to impose on an accused person being released before conviction conditions that are designed to protect the community from serious harm?”
The amendment passed with 66.5% voting yes and 33.5% voting no.
“Cash bail before conviction. Shall section 8 (2) of article I of the constitution be amended to allow a court to impose cash bail on a person accused of a violent crime based on the totality of the circumstances, including the accused’s previous convictions for a violent crime, the probability that the accused will fail to appear, the need to protect the community from serious harm and prevent witness intimidation, and potential affirmative defenses?”
The amendment passed with 67.6% voting yes and 32.4% voting no.
“Shall able-bodied, childless adults be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits?”
The referendum passed with 79.5% voting yes and 20.5% voting no.
These ballot measures were among the first items to pass both houses of the Legislature in 2023, with most Republican legislators and a handful of Democrats voting in favor of adding the questions to the ballot. The Wisconsin Legislature has the power, by passing a joint resolution, to place a constitutional amendment or advisory referendum on the ballot; under state law, the governor plays no role in either process. A lawsuit aiming to stop the questions from appearing on the spring ballot was not successful.