Everything You Need to Know About the “Biggest Election of 2023” and What VoteRiders Is Doing to Prepare Wisconsin Voters

VoteRiders Digital Communications Coordinator Erin Carden speaks with VoteRiders Wisconsin Coordinator Nick Ramos about the high stakes of Wisconsin’s Spring Election and what VoteRiders is doing on the ground to make sure voters are prepared to cast their ballots and make their voices heard.

March 7, 2023

Wisconsin has an election coming up this spring. Give us the basic rundown.  

Wisconsin is in the midst of a Wisconsin State Supreme Court race. There are other elections around the state but the one that the state and the nation are paying attention to is the Supreme Court race. The General Election for that will take place on Tuesday, April 4th, 2023. 

There are also a few local elections like Milwaukee school board races. We’ve also seen State Senate races taking place in other parts of Wisconsin. Even though these elections don’t rise to the level that a state Supreme Court race would, local municipalities are voting and making decisions. 

In regard to the State Supreme Court race — these positions don’t open up that often. A seat on the State Supreme Court lasts for 10 years. The decisions that the State Supreme Court has the power to make are decisions that are getting people really energized and wanting to participate, even in an “off year.” 

The race is technically nonpartisan. However, even nonpartisan races see candidates taking certain affiliations with certain parties. Right now there are two candidates left in the state Supreme Court race — Janet Protasiewicz and Dan Kelly. Dan Kelly has run for this seat previously in 2020 but lost. Now he’s taking another bite at the apple and running against Janet Protasiewicz. 

I previously thought this particular election was going to be quiet and that 2023 would ultimately be a very low-value year, but the opposite is true. It seems that everyone wants to have their voice heard and wants to make sure that whoever sits on this court is making decisions that reflect the feelings and views of the electorate here in Wisconsin.  

A lot of people are calling this the “biggest election of 2023.” Why? What exactly are the stakes of this election? 

The two really big issues are gerrymandering and abortion rights. 

The judiciary will most definitely discuss — either this year or next year — the maps here in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a 50-50 state. Statewide elections are often decided by decimal points. Right now, Republicans hold more than 60% of the seats in the State Senate and Assembly. Now, this is not my opinion, but I think most people would say that the maps here are very much gerrymandered, perhaps the most gerrymandered maps in the country. A study was done by Harvard University that declared Wisconsin as a “democracy desert.” The legislature in Wisconsin has drawn the maps in such an unfair way that it doesn’t truly reflect the electorate. Voters want to see that their vote actually matters. The Supreme Court judges will have to review those maps once the case goes in front of them and decide whether or not they need to be redrawn. 

There’s also been a lot of discussions about Wisconsin’s abortion law after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Wisconsin has a law on the books from 1849 that makes it a felony to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy unless it’s done to save a pregnant person’s life. This means if an individual is raped or is a victim of incest, they are expected to carry that pregnancy to term.

Governor Evers has recently introduced a bill to legalize abortions in Wisconsin and Attorney General Kaul has filed a lawsuit to challenge the 1849 abortion ban. The State Supreme Court here in Wisconsin will hear that challenge and will ultimately decide the fate of women’s reproductive rights in the state.

In what way could this race influence the 2024 presidential election? 

People are really interested in this particular race because Wisconsin is a purple state, it swings back and forth all the time because the margins of our races here are so thin. While this is a nonpartisan race, there’s clearly a liberal candidate and a conservative candidate. If we look at the partisan nature of the court’s makeup at this time, it’s currently sitting four conservative judges versus three liberal judges. 

If the liberal candidate in this particular election wins, it would shift the balance of the court to being 4-3 in favor of liberal judges. If it stays the same, if the conservative candidate wins, then the judiciary will stay 4-3 in favor of conservatives. 

This election is taking the temperature for what the nation is probably going to look like in 2024. We’re seeing an influx of money and outside resources come into Wisconsin. A lot of groups are trying to learn lessons and see what they can expect next year when we go into a presidential election. So I think that’s why a lot of people are saying that Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election could be the test that decides the outcome of the 2024 presidential election. 

In your experience, what are some of the challenges Wisconsin voters often face when it comes to securing a photo ID to vote? 

Many people are confused about the process to obtain an ID or driver’s license — they think they always have to go to the DMV, and they don’t know they can apply for one online. 

I’ve done a lot of Voter ID Clinics in low-income areas where many people have lost their ID or driver’s license and they avoid buying the duplicate because they can’t afford it, they have other expenses they have to focus on prioritizing. Also, if you live in a rural area in Wisconsin, your DMV can be miles and miles away, making it hard to find transportation to get there if you don’t have a vehicle or cannot afford to purchase gasoline. 

I spend a lot of time with the individuals I work with. I get their back story, find out when the last time was that they had an ID or driver’s license, and then look their information up in the system on my computer. Then I explain to them that my organization, VoteRiders, will help them pay for this ID, so they don’t have to worry about it.

I’ve also assisted several people with acquiring their first Wisconsin ID. It can be a difficult process trying to help them gather all their documents so that they can get that first ID, but seeing them hold that ID in their hands at the end makes it all worthwhile.

For the individuals who have old IDs with old addresses on them, it makes their lives so much easier when we can get them a duplicate ID with their new address on it because that ID fulfills the identification requirement for voting and also the residency requirement. All voters have to do is show their ID and they can go ahead and vote. 

I don’t blame people for being discouraged, it can be really hard to cast a ballot for some people. VoteRiders tries to make it as easy as possible for them to exercise their right to vote. We’re in it to win it together.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought an ID or birth certificate for someone and they’re dumbfounded at the fact that there’s an organization that is willing and able to help them — and not look down on them or anything like that. 

Aside from voter ID, are there other barriers that may make it difficult for people to cast a ballot? 

Even though Wisconsin has had its photo ID law for about a decade, the big thing that I see on the ground is that people don’t know exactly what they need to vote. 

For some people, voting is almost like a religion, they do it every cycle, but I really try to engage the other individuals that only turn out typically for the big-ticket elections — like the president, governor, or a senate seat. For those individuals, the biggest factor, aside from making sure they know what ID they need to vote, is providing them with information about the very important seat that’s currently on the ballot. I tell a lot of people from all demographics about what is actually going on with this election because it’s coming up quicker than we know. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told individuals that there is a Supreme Court race coming up and they don’t know who’s running. They have a lot of questions about the race. 

The stakes are too high for Wisconsinites to not know that this race is going on. Voters have the opportunity to decide a position that’s going to last for 10 years. The decisions that the judiciary body makes are ones that we feel the impacts of on a local level for years. 

What is VoteRiders doing on the ground in Wisconsin to prepare voters for the upcoming election? 

Nick Ramos providing ID assistance to a Wisconsin voter
Nick Ramos providing ID assistance to a Wisconsin voter

Mostly I’ve been connecting with partner organizations — ones that we have established relationships with and ones that we’re talking with for the first time — to get a sense of the types of community events they have going on. These partner organizations have built relationships and trust in the communities we serve. I host Voter ID Clinics in these communities where I help voters with their documents and IDs. I also attend various other kinds of resource fairs and tabling events.

 I look for any opportunity where I can educate people on VoteRiders’ free tools and resources and talk to them about the gravity of not only this election, but future elections in Wisconsin, and what exactly their vote means. For most people, it really is a moment where they take a step back and they’re like, ‘wow, I have this opportunity to do something so powerful.’ 

Do you have any final words for Wisconsin voters? 

I’m very proud to become a Wisconsinite and be a part of this state. Wisconsin takes elections and voting very seriously. The average citizen boasts high turnout across the state for elections during on and “off” years. We have to keep paying attention and keep building our communities to be the best they can be. Voting is one of the keys and one of the tools that we have at our disposal. A majority of people here do not take that for granted. 

For the individuals out there that want to participate in democracy, who want to participate in the voting process, who want to have their vote and their voice heard, VoteRiders is here for you. In a state where a photo ID law makes it extremely difficult for individuals to participate, we’re doing everything we can to make it as easy as possible for you to make your voices heard.