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Ballot Law Update: 2014 Year in Review

By Josh Altic

This edition of the Ballot Law Update features a year-end summary of legislation proposed in 2014 concerning laws governing the powers of initiative, referendum and recall. Of the 113 bills Ballotpedia tracked, 13 were approved in 5 states, while three were carried over to next year, and 97 were defeated. Some bills were introduced to establish or strengthen the powers of initiative, referendum and recall, while many others sought to restrict, direct, limit or decrease direct democracy.

This report also highlights some 2014 lawsuits that could have an impact on ballot law and lists all court cases filed against 2014 statewide ballot measures and select local measures.


Ballot measure legislation breaking news

The Tuesday Count: First statewide measure of 2015 to be voted on in Wisconsin

Edited by Brittany Clingen

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In Wisconsin, voters will see a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment addressing the state's judiciary system on the April 7 ballot, bringing the total number of 2015 statewide measures to four. In the meantime, marijuana continues its reign as one of the most prevalent topics on state and local ballots. Most recently, local measures have materialized in Tennessee, Kansas and California.

First statewide measure of 2015 to be voted on in Wisconsin:
The first statewide measure to go before voters in 2015 will appear on the April 7 ballot for voters in the Badger State. The measure, if approved, would provide for the election of the Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice by a majority of the justices serving on the court. The justice would serve a two-year term.[1]

Currently, the Wisconsin Constitution mandates that the Chief Justice be appointed based on seniority from the pool of justices sitting on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has served as the court's chief justice since 1996. She's considered a "liberal," but the court majority is considered "conservative," according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.[2] Opponents argue that the amendment is a political attack on Chief Justice Abrahamson. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley of the Wisconsin Supreme Court deemed the amendment a "tool to settle political scores," saying, "I think the constitutional amendments are being targeted at replacing our chief justice. That's short-sighted because the political pendulum swings; all of us know that. And we don't want 10 years from now, this constitution, which is the foundation of our state, to be used by another party that may be in power as some kind of political pingpong to go back and forth."[3][4]

However, supporters argue the amendment is a "common-sense measure" that would allow for a more democratic system of choosing the Supreme Court Chief Justice. Rep. Rob Hutton (R-13), one of the measure's supporters, said, "[The measure] not only minimizes the politics but it introduces more collaboration and cohesion."[2][3]

In order to refer the measure to the ballot, the state legislature was required to approve the amendment by a simple majority vote in two successive legislative sessions. The measure was approved by the legislature in November 2013 and again in January 2015. No Democrats voted in favor of the amendment during the 2015 vote. However, it was still approved by margins of 54.84 percent in the senate and 64.58 percent in the assembly.

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