Dane Co. voters voice confusion over statewide ballot referendum questions
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - With some voters participating in early voting, many are voicing confusion over statewide referendum questions.
There are three statewide questions for Wisconsin voters to decide on the 2023 Spring Election ballot.
The first two questions are about a proposed amendment that would add criteria for setting bail, while the third question asks about qualifications for receiving welfare. Question one asks if a judge should be able to set bond for a defendant to protect the community from serious harm. Question two asks if courts should impose cash bail on someone accused of a crime. The third question is non-binding, meaning it wouldn’t change policies. The questions read as followed:
Vote for one
QUESTION 1: “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?”
Vote for one
QUESTION 2: “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?”
Vote for one
QUESTION 3: “Shall able-bodied, childless adults be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits?”
UW Law School Professor Keith Findley said the two questions surrounding cash bail are poorly worded and confusing.
”These referendum questions are deceptive in that they make it appear to the public that we are improving public safety and equipping judges to protect the public when in fact those tools are already available and better tools are out there,” he said. ”These questions are framed in such a way as to make them appear to be really quite common sense and to make them appear to be necessary revisions when in fact they may not be either.”
Voting “no” to the cash bail questions does not take away cash bail.
Election workers at Goodman South Library are not allowed to answer questions about what’s on the ballot, but said a lot of voters ask about the cash bail referendum questions.
”It’s a little confusing going in and trying to make sense of what exactly I’m making a decision about,” voter Maria Drews said.
To avoid confusion, some voters researched the referendum questions ahead of time.
”I think if they’re accused of doing something violent they should get no bail whatsoever,” Voter John Gern said. “If it’s something non-violent that should be a different consideration. It should be a case by case basis.”
”Cash bail seems like it’s only going to hurt people who can’t pay,” Voter Victoria Horn said.
Findley agrees with voters like Horn, so he’s voting no to both bail questions. He believes the questions focus too much on money and not the circumstances around the crime someone is accused of.
”Wealthy people are not affected by it as much as our poor people,” Findley said. “It will have the affect of locking us into a commitment to that cash system which has a disparate impact on low income people and minorities.”
Findley said Wisconsin courts already assess and use constitutional laws that exist to prevent dangerous individuals from causing further harm and that referendum amendments would not improve the system.
Click here to download the NBC15 News app or our NBC15 First Alert weather app.
Copyright 2023 WMTV. All rights reserved.