Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. August 10, 2022.

Editorial: Primary turnout is a good sign

Anecdotal evidence on Tuesday suggested a high level of interest in this year’s primaries, with a number of people telling us their polling places were busy. That’s good news for Wisconsin.

Final numbers aren’t set. That awaits canvassing of the votes, and it’s never a surprise to see slight changes to the tally when that happens. But the early indications strongly suggest Wisconsin’s turnout was on par with the previous two partisan primary elections, keeping the state on the right track.

Turnout in primaries is notoriously low in the United States. No state saw even half of voters turn out in the presidential primaries in 2020, when interest was higher than it had been in decades.

Wisconsin, despite generally doing better than most states, is no exception to objectively low turnout. Figures from the state’s election commission tell the story.

The 2020 election drew 72.69% turnout in November. The primaries drew 21.1%. The 2018 primaries drew 23%. But you have to go back to 2002 to find another primary that drew just 20% of voters, and then 1992 to find the time before that.

In other words, the primaries have been decided by fewer than one in five voters far more often than not over the past 30 years.

Think that’s a new trend? Nope. Not since the 1960s was there a run of primaries in Wisconsin that drew more than 20% in three consecutive elections, and that included every primary from 1948-1964. With at least 939,500 voters taking part in Tuesday’s primary, it looks like Wisconsin should top 20% for the third consecutive primary for the first time in nearly six decades.

General elections do considerably better. You have to go back to 2010 to find one in which fewer than half the voters cast ballots — and that was 49.66%.

Given all this, is it really a surprise that primaries have generally pushed candidates further and further to their respective political poles? If turnout hits 20% and the voters are split 50-50 between the major parties, it means 10% of the voters cast Democratic ballots and 10% cast Republican ones.

If there are only two candidates in a given statewide primary, the one who takes just a single vote more than half the ballots will move on to the November election. So 5% of Wisconsin voters could select the nominee for each party. If there are more candidates, the number could easily be much lower. That’s hardly guaranteed to represent the views of the vast majority of supporters of either party.

We just don’t believe that most voters would embrace the extremes of any party given their preferences. But, by leaving primaries in the hands of so few, that’s what more moderate voters are often left with, especially when you add in gerrymandering.

Richard Nixon wasn’t wrong when he said America has a silent majority. It always has. There never was a mythical time when every election drew every voter in the nation. And, realistically, there never will be.

But in our system of government, silence is also a choice. Silence leaves the decisions in the hands of others. When people are silent on primary day, they abdicate their opportunity to play a role in the process before November.

If absence is the issue, engagement becomes the solution. And it appears Wisconsin voters are waking up to that reality. We’re seeing re-engagement in the past several primaries by people who didn’t vote previously. That trend needs to continue.

Tuesday was another step in that direction. It may not feel like this is the path to improvement, but it is. The simple fact is when voters pay attention, learn about the candidates and engage with the electoral process, they’re fulfilling an essential role in our nation.

So thank you to those who went out and voted on Tuesday. Thank you to those who worked the polls for those long hours. Every election is an important step for our state and our nation, and we’re glad you took that step.


Kenosha News. August 6, 2022.

Editorial: It’s time, Wisconsin should legalize marijuana

When you crack open a cold beer, you can be pretty confident what’s in it. It’s regulated. There are nutritional facts on the side of the case; you know that “fentanyl” will not be in there.

Alcohol is dangerous. Prescription drugs are dangerous. Having guns around is dangerous. Marijuana is dangerous too. But three of those things are pretty much completely legal in the United States. One of them isn’t in most states and remains criminalized in Wisconsin, even though the majority of Wisconsinites think it should be legal — 61%, according to a February poll from Marquette Law School.

And this November, both Kenosha and Racine residents will have a chance to weigh in on the issue with an advisory referendum question that will be on the ballot.

Until recently, all marijuana users — some of whom are using THC to address pain, PTSD and other ailments that regulated medicines have failed to treat — have had to purchase through the black market in the Badger State. Since December 2019 and January 2020, respectively, Wisconsin residents could go across the border to Michigan or Illinois to buy marijuana legally, even if bringing it back home is a crime.

After Prohibition became law under the 18th Amendment initiated in 1920, per capita alcohol consumption in the U.S. only fell by around 10-30%. Legality didn’t have a massive effect on usage, and thus it didn’t have much of an effect on safety.

Instead, keeping marijuana illegal in Wisconsin is affecting safety.

In Illinois or Michigan — or any of the 19 states with legal recreational marijuana and 37 states with legal medicinal marijuana — the supply lines of the drug can be tightly controlled by health departments to make sure the product isn’t being tainted with something actually deadly.

In Racine County this summer, officials have reported a spike in local drug overdoses and in Racine, the police department reported in June it had recovered marijuana that tested positive for the presence of fentanyl.

People are not dying from marijuana alone. But they could die from marijuana laced with fentanyl.

Your 17-year-old nephew could be trying to have a relaxing night in with friends and end up on a morgue slab. Your 83-year-old great-aunt battling debilitating multiple sclerosis could die sooner than she should just because she wants the pain to stop, but there’s nothing doctors can do for her besides prescribe highly addictive opioids. A 58-year-old combat veteran with intense anxiety every day seeking relief can’t get it quickly without severe side effects because she lives in Wisconsin and doesn’t want to leave her home state for a place where she can use the drug she believes can work.

If marijuana is legalized, lives could and would be saved and a lot fewer people would end up behind bars for what are minor offenses compared to violent crimes.

Pulled over with a small amount of weed in your car? As long as you aren’t actively high, the cop won’t care in states where weed is legal. That could lead to fewer dangerous police chases too.

Like with alcohol, youths should still be prevented from using marijuana until they reach adulthood.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Early exposure to cannabinoids in adolescent rodents decreases the reactivity of brain dopamine reward centers later in adulthood. To the extent that these findings generalize to humans, this could help explain the increased vulnerability for addiction to other substances of misuse later in life that most epidemiological studies have reported for people who begin marijuana use early in life.”

The minimum age to purchase weed should be the same as alcohol, and there should be restrictions on advertising similar to how there are limits on advertising booze and cigarettes.

In addition to making marijuana safer, it can also be a revenue generator for the state to pay for things like more school funding or cracking down on more serious drugs.

When other states were just starting to sell legal marijuana it made sense for Wisconsin to wait and see what happened. It’s been a few years now and the sky is not falling.

People are doing marijuana, Wisconsin might as well regulate it to make it safer and get the revenue from it.


Wisconsin State Journal. August 6, 2022.

Editorial: AG candidate Eric Toney wrong to press over-the-top felonies against eligible voters

Of all the political grandstanding this campaign season in Wisconsin, Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney’s sad stunt is among the worst.

He’s fanning irrational fears of voter fraud — which has become disturbingly common in Republican primaries — and he’s throwing the book at ordinary people who made small mistakes when casting ballots to participate in their democracy.

Awkwardly, Toney even charged a Trump supporter voting for the first time in the 2020 election.

Toney’s rash approach to the law doesn’t instill confidence in his bid to become attorney general. The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board isn’t endorsing in any of Tuesday’s primary races. As usual, we’ll wait for the general election to recommend candidates.

Yet statewide voters should remember Toney’s willingness to harass and harm people for perceived and narrow political advantage.

Toney charged five Fond du Lac County residents with election fraud for using a UPS Store as their voting address.

This includes Jamie Wells, 53, who said her vote for then-President Donald Trump in 2020 was the first time she cast a ballot. She told Wisconsin Watch she didn’t know state law requires a residential address to register to vote. The law makes an exception for people without traditional housing, but that requires more documentation.

Wells and her husband, whom Toney also charged, have used the UPS Store in Fond du Lac as their address for decades. They don’t have a residential address, Wells said, because the couple lives in a 42-foot trailer. Her husband works on farms across the state, so they live in the camper. Yet they consider Fond du Lac their home.

Toney “seems to think I’m a criminal,” Wells told Wisconsin Watch in a recent report in the State Journal. “And that’s the part that upsets me most.”

Every voter should be upset, not just the handful Toney is trying to make into examples. More than 150 other people across Wisconsin used post office boxes as addresses during the same election, and they aren’t being prosecuted. A warning not to do it again would have been the commonsense solution.

But Toney wants to appeal to Trump’s staunchest followers in Tuesday’s GOP primary election.

Trump has lied about widespread voter fraud — which doesn’t exist — to try to explain away his loss to President Joe Biden. Trump all but requires GOP candidates seeking his endorsement to regurgitate his false claims. Yet dozens of court rulings, independent audits and official recounts have consistently shown that Biden won, including by more than 20,000 votes in Wisconsin.

The few discrepancies Trump loyalists have uncovered don’t come close to changing that. And in Well’s case, throwing out her vote would have widened Biden’s victory.

Toney no doubt hoped that criminally charging a handful of Fond du Lac area residents for using post office boxes as voting addresses would convince more Trump supporters to back him in Tuesday’s primary. He faces Adam Jarchow and Karen Mueller for the GOP nomination. The winner will challenge Democratic incumbent Attorney General Josh Kaul on Nov. 8.

But fraud charges should apply to people trying to deceive — not to an honest mistake involving a single ballot.

The Wellses have been used as political props and shouldn’t be threatened with felonies carrying penalties of up to 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Even the $500 fine and court costs Toney secured against a different defendant, after dismissing a felony count for a misdemeanor conviction, seems excessive.

Wells said she and her husband have had to borrow money to cover what they expect will be about $17,000 in legal bills.

At the state GOP convention, Toney touted himself as “one the most aggressive prosecutors of election fraud” in Wisconsin.

By charging Wells and other eligible voters with felonies, Toney has shown he’s one of the most irresponsible and foolish.