A person stands at a voting machine.

The Most Impactful Election of the Year Is Happening Today in Wisconsin

A former president has been arrested and arraigned, and the Barbie trailer just dropped—not exactly a slow news day. So why does it seem like everyone’s talking about Wisconsin?

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Even Hillary Clinton, who deserves to throw some petty shade on today of all days, has her eyes on Wisconsin.

While spring elections are often low-turnout, local affairs, the stakes for the state’s Supreme Court election today could not be higher, as voters will choose between a far-right extremist who worked to overthrow the 2020 election and an openly pro-choice, pro-democracy circuit court judge. It seems like it should be an obvious choice, but statewide elections in the cheese state tend to trend close to 50-50.

The winner of the 10-year (!) term will tip the balance on the court as it decides the fate of abortion in Wisconsin. It could also decide the fate of election and voting laws, LGBTQ+ rights, and the state’s extremely gerrymandered voting maps. Which side holds the majority on the court will have national implications. In 2020, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided by just one vote not to throw out the state’s election results. In the next presidential election, that vote could be Kelly’s.

You can see why the New York Times and just about every other major outlet is calling it “the year’s biggest election.”

Conservatives have held a majority on the state court since 2008, and in that time they’ve repeatedly taken the side of conservative causes, imposing limits on unions, making it more difficult to vote by requiring voter IDs and outlawing ballot dropboxes, and approving heavily gerrymandered electoral maps that all but guarantee Republicans hold a majority of power in the state even when they earn a minority of votes.

Those lopsided maps are the reason why an abortion ban first passed in 1849—before people who can get pregnant even had the right to vote—was allowed to go into effect. The outdated law makes it a felony to perform an abortion for almost any reason. Abortions are only allowed in cases where a pregnant person is at serious risk of death. The ban has prevented doctors from providing necessary care and forced them to wait until a patient is actually dying–putting lives in danger.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has filed a lawsuit arguing that the pre-Civil War law was effectively repealed when the state passed new abortion laws following the Roe v. Wade decision. Liberal-leaning Judge Janet Protasiewicz has all but said she would vote to restore abortion rights in Wisconsin.

Her conservative opponent Dan Kelly has been cagier about his views, perhaps knowing his position is unpopular, but he has been enthusiastically endorsed by anti-abortion groups, some of which he has worked for in the past.

That’s not the only incriminating work in Kelly’s past. He also advised the Republican Party officials as they concocted a fake electors scheme in an attempt to falsify election results. It’s enough that even the daughter of retiring conservative Justice Patience Roggensack, whose seat the winner of this election will fill, wrote an op-ed calling Kelly unfit to take her place.

We in Wisconsin are extremely tired of the barrage of political spam texts and political ads—some of which have been worse than others—but it can’t be overstated how important this election is. Literal lives are at stake. So if you’re local, please tear yourself away from the courthouse drama in NYC long enough to get yourself to the polls.

(featured image: Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)

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Image of Erika Wittekind
Erika Wittekind
Erika Wittekind (she/her) is a contributing writer covering politics and news and has two decades of experience in local news reporting, freelance writing, and nonfiction editing. Her hobbies and special interests include hiking, dancing in the kitchen, trying to raise empathetic teen boys, and keeping plants alive. Find her on Mastodon at @erikalyn.newsie.social.