Series: Special Elections And Legislative Vacancies

When a member of the Wisconsin Legislature vacates the office before their term ends, the governor has the power to call a special election to fill that seat. Data shows that governors over the past five decades have generally acted promptly to fill vacancies. That pattern continued well into Gov. Scott Walker's administration until the final days of 2017, when he declined to call special elections for two open seats and leave them open until the November 2018 election to let voters choose new officeholders. A WisContext investigation of state elections records showed that a vacancy of such length was unprecedented in modern Wisconsin history.
 
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When then Rep. Sean Duffy resigned from Congress in September 2019, a political fight broke out over the special election to fill it. WisContex t engagement editor Hayley Sperling discusses what happened and what the 7th Congressional District's vacancy means in terms of political representation.
For the second time in as many years, Wisconsin's gears of democracy have slipped and slowed on the questions of how and when a special election would be set by the governor's office.
The way vacant seats in Wisconsin's legislature are filled (or not) in special elections was the focus of a rapidly moving lawsuit in early 2018. Scott Gordon of WisContext discusses how this dispute is related to previous practices in Wisconsin and how special elections work in other states.
The last week of March brought an exhausting whirlwind to Wisconsin's courts and statehouse as Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican allies fought against calling special elections in two vacant state legislative districts and sought to quickly rewrite a portion of state's elections law.
Over the course of three months, a seemingly mundane state personnel matter snowballed into a string of inaction and action across all three branches of government that was unprecedented in Wisconsin's political landscape.
If a voter in Wisconsin sues the state to try and compel the governor to call a special election, they might have a hard time finding precedent for that action.
Newton v. Walker concerns some fundamental questions of state law, and courts may have to wade into some uncharted territory to settle them.
How vacant state legislative seats get filled seems to have long been a hairy question — that is, when people think much about it at all.
How and when do Wisconsin governors decide to hold special elections to fill legislative vacancies? Scott Gordon of WisContext discusses the potential political and financial reasons for the delay in filling two open seats and the 50 years of precedent related to special elections.
When debating Gov. Scott Walker's decision to not call special elections to fill two vacancies in the Wisconsin Legislature, state political figures and commentators have argued over the move's implications elections law, public spending and democracy itself. But what about precedent?