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Wisconsin lawmakers introduce bipartisan effort for ranked voting in federal elections
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ELECTIONS

Wisconsin lawmakers introduce bipartisan effort for ranked voting in federal elections

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State lawmakers have introduced bipartisan legislation that would allow voters to rank their favorite candidates for U.S. Senate and House elections, regardless of party affiliation.

Governors and lieutenant governors from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, Minnesota and Ohio are encouraging residents to make a plan for how they can get the coronavirus vaccine once they become eligible.

Such a system could open the door to more viable third-party candidates, while also forcing major party candidates to moderate their views and court voters from across the political spectrum.

Currently, Wisconsin conducts partisan primaries for Senate and House elections, with voters choosing among a slate of candidates from their preferred party. Under the “Final Five” electoral system, all candidates would run on a single ballot in the primary and the top five candidates would advance to the general election.

Voters would then rank the five candidates in the general election. If one candidate secures more than half the votes, that candidate wins. However, if no candidate wins a majority, it triggers an instant runoff with the last-place candidate eliminated. Those who voted for that candidate would have their second choice counted instead. The process continues until one candidate secures more than 50% of the votes.

Right now the top vote-getter wins the general election, even if that person receives less than 50%.

Sen. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said such a system rewards political extremes, something he thinks his proposed legislation will help change.

“Politics is hyper-partisan, it is a lot of bomb throwing, it is not very productive, and the vast majority of people are turned off,” Kooyenga said. “The system as it’s currently designed rewards behaviors in the tale of bell curves. What this reform does is it gives a broader segment of our population … a say in who the representatives are.”

He said that’s because in partisan primaries a smaller, typically more partisan group of voters choose which candidate to send to the general election.

Kooyenga said such a system allowed partisans in Alabama to select Republican Roy Moore as his party’s U.S. Senate candidate despite being accused of sexual misconduct by several women. He later lost his race to a Democrat.

Assembly Democratic co-sponsor Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee, said the ranked-choice system would give voters of the other parties a say in the process because they can rank more candidates. Such a system might incentivize candidates from either major party to reach out to voters from the opposing party to rank them as their second choice, which could end up winning them the election.

Kooyenga said he realizes the legislation will be a “hard sell,” but he hopes to build public support.

Austin Ramirez, CEO of Husco and co-founder of Democracy Found, a Wisconsin-based organization backing the bill, said “Final Five” voting aims to foster more bipartisanship and accountability in Washington, D.C, while potentially opening the door to more independent or third-party candidates.

“I think you could very well implement this election system and not change a single person that we send to Washington … but dramatically change how they behave,” Ramirez said. “This isn’t about sending different people to Washington necessarily; it’s about getting an election system that rewards behavior that is aligned with their constituents.”

Ramirez also challenged a common opposition to ranked-choice voting, that the process is too complicated for voters to understand.

“You can still vote just like you do today,” he said. “You can just pick one candidate, vote for them and not rank anybody else. So in no situation is the voter worse off in the election process that we’ve outlined in the bill.”

Ramirez acknowledged the bill may not pass this session, but said he hopes to continue educating voters on the proposal.

The bill is co-sponsored by Kooyenga and Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Brunswick, and Riemer and Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc.

Ramirez said the bill only applies to federal elections for federal offices because individuals on both sides of the aisle tend to agree that Congress is in need of a change due in large part to partisan gridlock.

“We need to reform this system so that our state’s leaders prioritize our shared values as Wisconsinites over party allegiance,” Smith said in a statement.

Maine is the only state currently using the electoral system for federal and presidential elections, according to FairVote, a nonpartisan organization that supports ranked-choice voting. Alaska is slated to put the measure in place next year. Several states use ranked-choice voting for local city and county elections.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, said in a statement the proposed legislation would address “a cycle of enmity, careerism, and polarization” in Congress and could create greater accountability to voters and more incentive for lawmakers to find common ground.

“At a time of intense partisanship, we’re in dire need of solutions,” Gallagher said. “This idea is not just a good place to start, but a way for our state to revitalize its rich history in political innovation.”

Third-party candidates benefit

UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden said ranked-choice voting systems, such as the proposed bill, removes some power that parties have in choosing their nominees for office because there would no longer be partisan primaries.

He said ranked-choice systems also give third-party candidates a greater chance of winning. Under the current system, some people who want to vote for a third-party candidate don’t because they fear they’re throwing away their vote or helping the opponent of the major party candidate they might otherwise support.

But under a ranked-choice system, such voters would be free to rank a third-party candidate first and a major party candidate second.

The increased confidence third-party voters would have would likely encourage more third-party candidates to run. It would also encourage major party candidates to court third-party voters and even voters of the opposing party, which could potentially disarm hyper-partisan campaign behavior.

“That’s going to make for a friendlier kind of campaign,” Burden said.

Year in review: The top Madison-area stories of 2020

It started out well enough. The Badgers were making a late-in-coming run at the Final Four. Hometown insurance behemoth American Family announced it was boosting its starting minimum wage to $20 an hour. Madison East Siders welcomed a new Pinney branch library.

The first two and a half months of the year feel like a different era, when news of a strange new virus infecting people in China was safely tucked away in the back pages of the newspaper and the heart-breaking images of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a 46-year-old Black man had yet to go viral.

Then came March and successive waves of closures, cancellations, lockdowns, furloughs, layoffs, infections and deaths. If the subsequent uprisings over the killing of George Floyd weren't enough to remind America that it has plenty of work to do to overcome racism, the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha tragically emphasized the point. And a divisive presidential election carried the tone of the year at the end.

While it may not be a year to look back on with particular fondness, 2020 no doubt is one to remember. Here's a look back at some of the top stories in the Madison area as they occurred.

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It marked the fourth consecutive loss in the Rose Bowl for UW, and the first time since 2013 that the program lost its final two games of the year.

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Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Sunday the victim who officers found in an apartment at 1905 McKenna Blvd. shortly after 2:30 p.m. Saturday was a 20-year-old African American male.

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With the Green Bay defense failing to lay a hand on 49ers running back Raheem Mostert for much of the first half and the Aaron Rodgers-led offense committing two turnovers and failing to convert a third down yet again during a scoreless first 30 minutes, the Packers dug themselves a 27-0 halftime deficit on their way to a demoralizing 37-20 loss.

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Gutierrez, superintendent of the school district in Seguin, Texas, was announced Friday as the Madison School Board's pick to lead the district.

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The person returned to Dane County Regional Airport after a trip to Beijing Jan. 30 and went directly to UW Hospital's emergency room, officials said.

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This weekend's performances at the Alliant Energy Center will be the last with elephants in Dane County as a contract between the circus and the venue expires. 

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Tony Evers said he vetoed the legislation, which uses surplus revenue, because it doesn't invest in the state's schools. 

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Despite no Wisconsin cheeses finishing in the final top three, state producers dominated the competition, earning 45 gold medals out of 132 categories.

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This decision is unprecedented for Wisconsin's largest university and taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.

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The closure order, to take effect no later than 5 p.m. on March 18, affects nearly 1 million Wisconsin children in grades K-12 in public and private schools.

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One was a man in his 50s from Fond du Lac County; the other was a man in his 90s from Ozaukee County.

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David A. Kahl, 53, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide.

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Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order represents a shift from the governor's position last week, when he said he did not plan on issuing such an order.

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Most voting locations saw few lines and smooth operations. But other places, notably Milwaukee, experienced significant delays, chaos and conditions that made it impossible for some voters to cast a ballot.

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Jill Karofsky's win over Dan Kelly cuts the court's conservative majority to 4-3, giving liberals a chance to take back control in 2023.

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The U.S. Air Force announced the final selection of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing, capping more than three years of study and deep community division over the planes, which come with the promise of jobs and new construction but also noise and pollution.

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While applauded as a good first step, Democratic members, as well as public safety and health officials, have criticized the bill for not allocating more state funding to respond to the pandemic.

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For 30 years, "Ms. Milele" was the publisher of UMOJA magazine and a prominent leader in Madison's black community. She was "short in stature but mighty in force." 

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Free community testing for COVID-19 started at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison on Monday morning.

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Gov. Tony Evers and legislative Republicans will need to work quickly to come up with a replacement plan.

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The Vilas Zoo, Goodman Pool, beaches and movie theaters are among the places not opening yet.

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There were signs early Sunday that the violence was spreading into other parts of the city.

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"It’s clear they have important process issues to work out," the candidate said.

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School Board President Gloria Reyes said the decision to pull police from Madison's four main high schools is effective immediately. 

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The Madison School Board chose Carlton Jenkins, a superintendent of a suburban Twin Cities school district, over another finalist for the job. He starts Aug. 4.

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As a Dane County public health order requiring face coverings in all indoor spaces outside the home took effect Monday, businesses offered mixed views on mandates, though for many retailers it was business as (the new) usual.

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There was no update on the second victim from the shooting at Schroeder Road and Chapel Hill Road Saturday night. 

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Travis M. Christianson, 44, is tentatively charged with first-degree intentional homicide.

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Republican President Donald Trump also has caused controversy for saying he might deliver acceptance speech at White House.

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The girl was in a car that was struck by gunfire late Tuesday morning on East Washington Avenue.

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The conference decided — after meetings between presidents and athletic directors, and outcry from players, coaches, politicians and fans — to cancel the fall sports season and will attempt to move football to the spring semester.

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"The video that came out of Kenosha is absolutely horrific. I don’t understand how people can watch it and not be here," one Madison protester said. 

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The fifth-seeded Heat finished off an upset of the NBA’s best regular-season team Tuesday, topping the Milwaukee Bucks 103-94 in Game 5 of their East semifinal series — while Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s reigning MVP, couldn’t play because of a sprained right ankle.

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UW-Madison is pausing in-person instruction for at least two weeks and quarantining more than 2,200 students living in two dorms.

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Police are not recommending charges against Althea Bernstein, saying there is a difference between someone trying to deceive law enforcement and not being able to corroborate a report of a crime.

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The alternate care facility at State Fair Park in West Allis may begin taking patients Thursday.

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A small crowd Downtown Saturday morning before the race was called turned into hundreds of people honking horns, cheering and waving signs after Biden was declared the winner, while some Trump supporters turned out in protest.

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"We understand the eyes of the world will be on these Wisconsin counties over the next few weeks,"  Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said.

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St. Mary's and Meriter expect to get vaccine soon.

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The flurry of activity caps off a tumultuous post-election saga in Wisconsin that has now concluded.

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A look back at the year 2020 through the lens of Wisconsin State Journal photographers John Hart, Amber Arnold and Steve Apps

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