Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Board Approves Two Fall Referendums

A third referendum gauging public support for legal abortion did not pass.

By - Jul 28th, 2022 03:36 pm

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

After a month of lengthy debates, the Milwaukee County Board approved two advisory ballot measures for the November election. The non-binding referendums will ask voters their opinion on statewide legalization of marijuana and the banning of assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

Urban Milwaukee previously reported on the firearm referendum, sponsored by Sup. Dyango Zerpa and the marijuana referendum sponsored by Sup. Ryan Clancy.

Another referendum, also authored by Clancy, was introduced later in the board’s July meeting cycle and would have gauged public opinion on the state’s abortion ban, which went into effect following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June that overturned constitutional protection for abortion.

The specific question the referendum would have posed was: “Should Wisconsin Statute 940.04, which bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy without exception for rape, incest, or health of the patient, be repealed to allow legal access to abortion care.”

But it will not be on the ballot. The measure fell one vote short of the 12 votes (two thirds of the board) required to be approved. Sup. Sequanna Taylor was absent during that portion of the meeting and the measure failed on an 11-6 vote.

The board went into recess during their meeting Thursday and, Urban Milwaukee has learned, there was some discussion and attempt by supervisors that supported the resolution to have the question called again. Under Roberts Rules, a question or vote can be reconsidered if someone from the prevailing side is willing to make a motion to do so. But the opposing supervisors did not budge.

The measure was debated at length during the board’s Judiciary, Law Enforcement and General Services Committee and Finance Committee, and was recommended for approval by both. Public support for the referendum was unanimous with eight members of the public that spoke all in favor, including State Representative Christine Sinicki.

Supervisors Deanna Alexander, Patti Logsdon, Shawn Rolland, Liz Sumner, Steve Taylor and Tony Staskunas voted against the item.

Alexander, who does not support legal abortion, voted against the resolution and also took issue with the wording, stating, “I don’t want our body to take a precedent that a law is bad just because it’s old.” She was referring to the state’s ban which was codified in 1849.

Rolland, who also voted against the referendum questions on marijuana and the banning of military-style firearms, said that he did not think spending approximately $18,000 per question, or $54,000, to add them to the ballots was a good use of county resources, given that it would add to the county’s projected deficit for 2023.

Rolland said he is strongly pro-choice, that his family donates to Planned Parenthood, but that he doesn’t think the referendums will accomplish anything politically. Specifically, Rolland and Steve Taylor, who also voted against all three resolutions, noted that the board doesn’t have the power to address any of the issues at hand and could only communicate the results of the referendum to the Republican-controlled state legislature. “We know from repeated lived experience that Madison doesn’t care what we have to say, what our voters have to say,” Rolland said.

Clancy, who sponsored the resolution, said that he did not author the resolution and that it was drafted in response to requests from community members. He said Dane County would have a similar question on its ballot.

He said the ballot question was a way to give many people for whom the issue is gravely important a voice. Clancy quoted his wife saying she wanted supervisors that opposed the referendum to tell her that her opinion wasn’t “worth a nickel” which is the figure Clancy said it would roughly cost, per ballot.

Introducing it to the judiciary committee, he said, “I want to be clear that this is not abortion on the ballot, abortion is a basic human right, it’s healthcare and it should not be debated by anybody, including us without a uterus.”

Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson, who ultimately voted in favor of the referendum, said she arrived at the meeting Thursday prepared to vote no, explaining that she felt too many people that can’t get pregnant have already had too much say on the matter.

She told her colleagues that she has accessed abortion services herself, and that the issue is very real for many women. “Just remember that as we organize around this real issue, and hopefully we get the right outcome that we speak when doing this.”

Though, following the board’s vote Thursday, there will be no immediate outcome. The issue will be left off the ballot.

Categories: MKE County, Politics, Weekly

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