Laws governing local ballot measures in Wisconsin
This article sets out the laws governing local ballot measures in Wisconsin. It explains:
- Which local units of government make the initiative process available to residents.
- How and whether local units of government, including school districts, can refer local ballot measures (such as school bond propositions) to the ballot.
- An overview of laws governing local recall elections.
Types of local government
Local government in Wisconsin consists of 72 counties, 595 cities and villages, and 1255 towns. In addition, there are 761 special districts and 440 independent school districts. 
- All cities and villages have home rule authority and are able to pass charter ordinances.
- Milwaukee is the only first-class city and only remaining city with a private act charter. Other cities are classified as second, third, or fourth class.
Wisconsin has a revenue cap that limits the amount of property tax revenue school districts can bring in. If any school district wants to exceed revenue limits, they are required to have a ballot measure submitted to the people. Wisconsin also requires ballot measures for any school bonding that exceeds one million dollars. However, Wisconsin has generous exemptions to these requirements. For example, school districts are exempt from the voter approval required to issue new bonding if the district is ordered by a state or federal court to remove hazardous substances or to be in compliance with fire standards. Also, school districts are exempt from bond elections if they are purchasing or detaching property from a former consolidated school district.
| Ballot Law Portal|
|Laws Governing Ballot Measures|
Local recall rules
The citizens of Wisconsin are granted the authority to perform a recall election by Section 12 of Article XIII of the Wisconsin Constitution. This section was added to the Wisconsin Constitution in 1926; it was amended in April 1981.
- For additional detail, see: Laws governing recall in Wisconsin
Campaign Finance Rules
Initiative process availability
|A guide to local ballot initiatives|
Cities and villages have a state set initiative process in Wis. Stat. § 9.20 that may be used to propose and vote on regular ordinances or charter ordinances.
However, court decisions have limited the subject matter available for initiative. An ordinance initiated under Wis. Stat. § 9.20: 1) must be legislative as opposed to administrative or executive in nature; 2) cannot repeal (or conflict with) an existing ordinance; 3) may not exceed the legislative powers conferred upon the governing municipal body; and 4) may not modify statutorily prescribed procedures or standards (which includes zoning). The restriction on conflicting with existing ordinances limits the initiative power compared with other states.
There are no explicit constitutional provisions for local initiative. However, Wisconsin Constitution, Article XI, Section 3 grants home rule power to cities and villages.
- Wis. Stat. Section 9.20 authorizes initiative. See law: Wis. Stat. § 9.20
- Wis. Stat. Section 61.342 states that section 9.20 is applicable to villages. See law: Wis. Stat. § 61.342
- Wis. Stat. Section 66.0101(6) states that section 9.20 is available for charter ordinances. See law: Wis. Stat. § 66.0101(6)
Initiative process features
|Local I&R Laws in the 50 States|
|Source:Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with |
clipboards, conversations, and campaigns
Initiative process in the top 10 most populated cities
|List of Most Populated Cities in Wisconsin|
|City||Population||City Type||Next election|
|Madison||236,901||General law with Home Rule|
|Green Bay||105,809||General law with Home Rule|
|Kenosha||99,738||General law with Home Rule|
|Racine||78,853||General law with Home Rule|
|Appleton||73,243||General law with Home Rule|
|Waukesah||70,867||General law with Home Rule|
|Eau Claire||66,623||General law with Home Rule|
|Oshkosh||66,344||General law with Home Rule|
|Janesville||63,479||General law with Home Rule|
The top 10 most populated cities are all subject to the state set initiative process provided above.
- ↑ The U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 study of local governments
- ↑ League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Organization and Powers of Cities and Villages
- ↑ League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Distinction Among Classes of Cities
- ↑ Mount Horeb Community Alert v. Village Board of Mt. Horeb, 263 Wis. 2d 544, 665 N.W.2d 229 (2003)
- ↑ Ballotpedia: Types and #'s of local government by state
- ↑ US Census Bureau "City and Town Totals: Vintage 2011 (Population figures as of 2011 Census estimates)
- Ballotpedia: Research document of Wisconsin local I&R laws
- League of Wisconsin Municipalities
- Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, July 2004, Vol. IV, No. 3