Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack, a member of the court's conservative majority, announced this week that she plans to seek re-election next year. Three possible challengers' names have surfaced and there's sure to be a spirited campaign.

But over at Wisconsin Reporter, columnist Kevin Binversie says it's time to end the “charade” of nonpartisanship in Wisconsin’s judicial elections. If we can’t do away with the judicial elections altogether, he argues, we might as well make the races partisan, and allow judges to affiliate with political parties.

“At least that way there appears to be more truth in advertising,” he writes. “At least voters know where the candidates stand.”

Binversie should not hold his breath waiting for Gov. Scott Walker or legislative Republicans to push for such a change. Unlike other electoral modifications that Walker does support — voter ID, the elimination of same-day registration — the establishment of partisan judicial elections would likely benefit Democrats.

To understand why nonpartisan races help Republicans, look at the results of judicial elections in Milwaukee. Liberal judicial candidates in nonpartisan contests perform significantly worse in the solidly Democratic city than candidates with the coveted ‘D’ next to their name.

In last year’s contentious Supreme Court race between incumbent conservative Justice David Prosser and liberal challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, the liberal candidate received 67.8 percent of the vote. In comparison, President Obama received 79.3 percent of the vote this year.

There are two plausible explanations for the poor performance (relatively speaking) of liberal judicial candidates in Milwaukee.

First, turnout among the Democratic base — particularly low-income minority voters — is lower in nonpartisan spring elections, meaning that the spring electorate is whiter and wealthier, which benefits conservative candidates.

The second problem for liberals is that many base voters may arrive at the polls uninformed of which nonpartisan judicial candidate is favored by the Democratic Party.

While Democrats and liberal groups clearly get out the memo on judicial candidates to their educated, politically aware base in Madison -- where recent liberal Supreme Court candidates have performed on par with Democratic candidates -- they struggle to inform and turn out the less-educated and lower-income base in Milwaukee.

Rich Abelson, executive director of AFSCME Council 48 in Milwaukee, says the dynamics of spring elections present a challenge to progressives that groups like his must work hard to counteract.

“Not spending more time mobilizing the get-out-the-vote effort in Milwaukee hurt us dramatically,” he says, referring to last year’s Supreme Court race.

Walker, of course, understands this dynamic better than anybody. In 2004 and 2008, he easily won county-wide nonpartisan elections running as a conservative candidate for Milwaukee County executive. In 2010 and 2012, however, running with the poisonous ‘R’ next to his name as a candidate for governor, he received less than 40 percent of Milwaukee County’s vote.

Jack Craver is the Capital Times political reporter, focusing on elections, candidates and campaign finance.

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(3) comments

poochie2

April elections in Wisconsin average at or under 20%. When your individual or family income is barely at or is under a living wage, there are typically unending financial crises, i.e., how to pay the mounting bills, wondering if there will be food on the table at the end of the week, debt from medical bills, insurance, children's daily crises to manage, on and on... April elections come around, with one or two people or issues on the ballot, people you never heard of, offices that are seemingly remote and unconnected to your life situation,or ballot issues that can be too difficult to wade through and really comprehend. Add to that a perception of inconvenience of voting, getting off of work, getting to the polling site on time. It seems to me that the off-off election cycle(not on the 2 or 4 years cycle for Federal/state elections) is weighted towards participation by a narrow range of voters, evidenced by the history of participation, rather than scheduled to promote the greatest amount of turnout from the full spectrum of voters in the state. A waste of time, money, and a guaranteed unbalanced, unrepresentative election result. Aren't we smarter than this?

PapaLorax

"The second problem for liberals is that many base voters may arrive at the polls uninformed of which nonpartisan judicial candidate is favored by the Democratic Party.

While Democrats and liberal groups clearly get out the memo on judicial candidates to their educated, politically aware base in Madison -- where recent liberal Supreme Court candidates have performed on par with Democratic candidates -- they struggle to inform and turn out the less-educated and lower-income base in Milwaukee."

While I agree this is true, liberals would be blasting any conservative who published the same idea as racist elitist scum. A conservative saying what you said would be accused of saying "black people are too stupid to know who to vote for unless there is a D by their name".

Mike123
Mike123

Contrary to what the Wisconsin Reporter represents (the GOP agenda only), it is not about conservatism, but currently only about political activism. Political hacks like Prosser, that only cater to money interests (like Gableman and Ziegler), for example voting for listening to cases in which they personally have vested interests (this is against federal judical laws) are the main reasons for splitting of the court. It doesn't help when you attempt to strangle a fellow justice, and then do everything in your power to escape accountability, but the Wisconsin Reporter does not want to call attention to those "little details". We do not need a partisan direction, we only need to select judges based on their judical merits (Prosser would never be selected on merits for certain-just read some of his judical "opinions" e.g., the diatribe in the Mark Green case) to rule impartially in accordance with the constitution and law, rather than their political ideology.

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