Wisconsin Supreme Court election to determine majority control

Conservative Daniel Kelly and liberal Janet Protasiewicz are facing off in a race that will determine the ideological balance of Wisconsin's court.
Posted at 11:11 AM, Apr 04, 2023

With the energy and enthusiasm you might expect for a presidential election, volunteers in Wisconsin were hitting the pavement, trying to boost voter turnout for Tuesday's spring election.

The stakes are higher than ever in the race to fill an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Conservative Daniel Kelly and liberal Janet Protasiewicz are facing off in a race that will determine the ideological balance of the court. 

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates Republican-backed Dan Kelly and Democratic-supported Janet Protasiewicz

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"So this is one of those rare elections where the change of a single seat can fairly dramatically change the direction of the court overall," said Howard Schweber, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 

The election is supposed to be nonpartisan, but on the ground it doesn't feel that way. Over $40 million has been spent on this race, and organizers say they're not focused on changing minds; they're focused on mobilizing their base of supporters. 

"Our strategy is not so much persuasion at the doors, it's really awareness of a spring election, because so many people know to vote in presidential, but they don't know to vote in spring elections," said Jane Bernstein, a Democratic organizer with the Madtown O's. 

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And the biggest issue for voters is abortion. The state Supreme Court is expected to consider a case challenging Wisconsin's 1849 abortion ban that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade

"The person elected this spring will become part of the majority, either for conservatives or for liberals, who will decide in a relatively black-and-white way whether abortion is available or not. So you know, it's that focus, I think, that is driving everything," said Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison. 

The court is also likely to take up other big issues, like election procedures and redistricting. 

For volunteers like Jack Plasterer, the goal is knocking on as many doors as possible. 

"I find that most people are pretty open to talking about their political views and their leanings. And all that matters is that we get them to turn out, go to the polls, and hopefully our candidate wins," said Plasterer.