KENOSHA, Wis. — From abortion to marijuana, leaders across Southeast Wisconsin want to add questions to the ballot gauging interest on these hot topics.
The City of Racine is considering adding an advisory question to the November ballot about legalizing abortion. The City of Kenosha has already added an advisory referendum to the General Election ballot on whether marijuana should be legal.
Kenosha Alderman Anthony Kennedy says he pushed to put an advisory referendum on marijuana on the ballot for the General Election.
“We did medical marijuana once before as a referendum question here in the City of Kenosha. Let’s ask our constituents what their opinion is on legalization of marijuana and (it is) possible this might help the process up in Madison,” said Kennedy.
Racine Alderwoman Natalia Taft wants to see a question on the ballot that asks if people would support overturning the 1849 ban on abortion in Wisconsin. She also plans to use the results of the referendum to influence lawmakers in Madison.
“In Wisconsin, we don't have the ability to do things like collect signatures for ballot referendum. It's entirely left up to the legislature, and what I'm hoping is that the representatives and Madison across the state will hear us loud and clear,” said Taft.
Several Milwaukee County supervisors tried to put a similar question on the November ballot but it did not receive enough votes to be added to the ballot. UWM Political Science professor Mordecai Lee says these advisory referendum questions let politicians hear from the people, but it doesn’t allow the average voter to make any change in the law.
“It doesn’t have any mandatory required impact. And generally speaking, these advisory (referendums) have the weight of a feather because it's not like they are amending the constitution. They’re just expressing their opinion. Okay, fine. Will the elected officially follow it? Are they required to follow it? No. If they want to they will. If they don’t want to they won’t,” said Lee.
So does a referendum question increase voter turnout? Not all researchers agree. A 2012 Political Research Quarterly study that looked at all the elections from 1870 to 2008 found that “having direct democracy does not in and of itself lead to higher turnout.” However, a study from American Politics Research which focused on elections from the 1970s to 1990s found voter turnout was estimated to be seven to nine percent higher in Midterm Elections when a question was used.
Lee says some voters are motivated by an issue, not a candidate, and those people are not always regular voters.
“Even if they wouldn’t be routine voters, habitual voters, if something that is really important to them is on the ballot, it might bring them out. And then by the way, if they are already voting then the governing majority of whoever put it on the ballot would benefit from that increased turnout,” said Lee.
If Racine adds an advisory referendum to the ballot it would be voted on during the General Election in November. That is the same time Kenosha’s question on marijuana is up for a vote.