GENERAL LOCAL ELECTIONS INFORMATION
Local spring elections (general election the first Tuesday in April) are non-partisan. Candidates don't run as a member of a political party - Republican, Democrat, Green, etc. - but instead run without those political party affiliations. This means when there are more than two people run for a seat, regardless of the party they belong to, they will have a primary on the 3rd Tuesday in February.
Most local offices for county board, villages, cities and towns are two year terms. Some offices such as the County Executive or Mayor may be 4 year terms. School board terms are three years. Some bodies have staggered terms, such as 2 or 3 Madison School Board members run each year. Others have all of the elected officials face election at the same time. For example, all 37 Dane County Board Supervisors (elected in even years) and all 20 Madison City Council (elected in odd years) members run every two years. Some candidates run in specific districts that are smaller sections of the geography of the entire area the elected body represents, like Dane County Board and Madison City Council. Others run for for s specific seat, but are elected by the entire geographic area, such as the Madison School Board. Some districts may have more than one representative, for example, in Fitchburg there are two city council seats in each district.
Most of the websites that list their elected officials list not only their contacts, but when the terms expire. See here for county board, school boards, cities, towns and villages. With the media cutbacks in recent years, there often isn't much attention given to when people need to run for office. While some websites provide a lot of information about how to run, others simply post their formal notice. Others do nothing.
For spring elections, candidates start circulating nomination papers December 1st and nomination papers and the other paperwork necessary to get on the ballot are due the first Tuesday in January. Incumbents are also given a deadline for when they have to file a notification of non-candidacy if they are not running again and if they don't meet the deadline, candidate paperwork deadlines will be extended.
These are the constitutional offices and the terms of their office.
- Sheriff - 4 year term
- County Clerk - four year term
- County Treasurer - four year term
- Register of Deeds - four year term
- Clerk of Court - two year term
- District Attorney - four year term
These elections are in the fall and people run under a specific party. Information for these offices for Dane County is here. The Primary is the second Tuesday in August and the Election is the second Tuesday in November.
If the sheriff , register of deeds, judge or district attorney leaves before their term is over, the governor appoints the replacement. Dane County no longer has an elected coroner, we have a medical examiner.
Here are the constitutional requirements for running for office:
- Circuit Court Judge: Licensed to practice law in Wisconsin for 5 years immediately prior to the election and a qualified elector* of the circuit at the time of election. Article VII, Sections 7, 10, 24, Wis. Constitution.
- District Attorney: Licensed to practice law in Wisconsin and a resident of the proprietorial unit (county) at the time of taking office. Wis. Stat. § 978.02.
- County Supervisor (including Milwaukee): Resident and qualified elector* of district at the time of filing nomination papers. Wis. Stat. § 59.20(1).
- Other County Office: A qualified elector* of the county at the time of filing nomination papers. Wis. Stat. § 59.20(1).
- Alderperson (including Milwaukee): A qualified elector* of the city and, if aldermanic district, a qualified elector* of the district and actually residing in the district at the time of election. Wis. Stat. §.62.09(2)(a).
- Other City Office (including Milwaukee): A qualified elector* of the city and an actual resident of the city at the time of election. Wis. Stat. § 62.09(2)(a).
- Village office: A qualified elector* and an actual resident of the village at the time of election.Wis. Stat. § 61.19
- Town Office: A qualified elector* of the town at the time of taking office, except an assessor who is appointed under Wis. Stat. § 60.307. Wis. Stat. § 60.30(2).
- School Board Member (At-Large): A qualified elector* of the school district at the time of filing a Declaration of Candidacy. Wis. Stat. §§ 120.06(2), (6)(b)2.
- School Board Member Representing an Apportioned Area: A qualified elector* of the school district at the time of filing a Declaration of Candidacy and a resident of the apportioned area at the time of taking office (4th Monday in April). Wis. Stat. §§ 120.05(1)(d), 120.06(2), (4)
Felons: No person may hold any state or local elected office in Wisconsin if the person has been convicted of a felony in any court in the United States unless the person has been pardoned of the conviction. No person may have his/her name placed on the ballot for any state or local elected office in Wisconsin if the person has been convicted of a felony in any court in the United States unless the person has been pardoned of the conviction. Article XIII, Section 3 (2), (3), Wis. Constitution.
Qualified elector is defined in Wis. Stat. § 6.02, as a U.S. citizen, 18 years of age or older, who has resided in the election district for at least 28 consecutive days before any election at which he or she offers to vote (and who is not disqualified by virtue of one or more of the impediments described in Wis. Stat. § 6.03).
Circuit Court Judges: Dane County has 17 circuit court judges. Judges are elected to six (6) year terms. Like many other elections, incumbency brings a lot of power and once a judge has been elected to office they often run unopposed in future elections. Judges are not allowed to be endorsed by political parties as they are to remain impartial, so you often don't see political endorsements in these races.
First things first, ask yourself these questions:
- Why do you want to run? What do you hope to accomplish? What do you know about your district and the office you are running for?
- Do I have time to do this? How will my family and friends respond to me being gone many week nights?
- Do I have the time and energy to run for office? How many doors can I knock on?
- Do I have friends and volunteers that will help me with my campaign?
- Am I willing to ask people to help - with contributions, volunteering and endorsements? Can I spend a lot of hours knocking on doors?
- If I were to send a letter to friends and family and ask them to donate, who would I send it to? How much could I raise?
If you haven't stopped reading and given up by now, good! But take your time, think these things through. Feel free to talk to our elections committee members and ask questions! If you've decided to run, here's what you have to do!
- Gather your friends that will help you on your campaign!
- Research past campaigns and see what you need to do to win!
- Open a bank account (usually the candidate puts in the money to get the account started.
- Before you raise any money, register with the appropriate clerk!
- Get to know your district, every inch of it!
- Refine the response to "I am running because . . . "
- Get out a fundraising letter to family and friends.
- Ask everyone you know in your district to give you a contribution or their endorsement.
- Get the voter file.
- Get some good photos taken
- Develop your message
- Develop a voter contact plan
- Develop a budget and fundraising plan
If this is your first time running, plan to attend a campaign school or find people who have! Our campaign school, for people who are members of Progressive Dane, covers developing a campaign team (who do you need to recruit to do what), the candidate's job (dollars, doors, endorsements), campaign finance laws, messaging, getting the message out (web, lit, social media etc) and getting out the vote! The mechanics of running a campaign are the same, but must be modified for your district and the type of seat you are running for.
We have lots of tips and tricks about where to get yard signs printed, volunteer coordination, ward mapping and voter identification, databases and walk lists, where to print your lit with the union bug, specifics of filing your papers for candidacy and putting together a winning team, effective lit design, preparing for debates and of course, policy issues galore! After all, winning the campaign is just the beginning! Issues are next!
How to get endorsed?
1. Check to see if you agree with our platforms.
4. Attend our candidate training!
5. Attend our Snowball held mid-December each year, or our summer Garden Party to meet our members.
6. Our candidate questionnaires are due VERY QUICKLY after the filing papers are due! Watch for the candidate questionnaires and invitation to interview, we send info to all candidates for Madison School Board, Dane County Board & County Executive, Madison and Fitchburg City Council & Mayor, to the email addresses listed on their filing papers. We also endorse for other races except judicial races, so please ask if you are interested.
7. Fill out the candidate questionnaires (if required - details will be in the email.)
8. Attend the endorsement interview - usually 1st or 2nd weekend in January.
9. Attend the General Membership Meeting where we make the endorsements - 4th Wednesday in January.
With endorsements come not just our name to be placed on your lit, but a donation to the campaign, access to our membership lists, access to our email lists, facebook page, blog, newsletter, etc, volunteers, individual campaign contributions and more. We also work closely with our elected officials on policy issues once elected and support their initiatives that align with our platforms.
Just ask us who to vote for, we'll tell you! All joking aside, there are many ways to find out information. One of the favorite guides in Dane County is the Candidates Anders produced by the League of Women Voters. Candidates who miss those deadlines and aren't in the Candidates Answers are usually considered not serious candidates. They also do "Know Your Candidates" video tapings for some races. Other ways to find out who to vote for are:
- Newspapers usually do one article on each of the local races comparing the candidates
- Watch for literature at your door or in the mail
- Check our their website and facebook pages
- Check out which organizations endorsed them - but look into the organizations and don't be fooled by their name
- Look for names of like-minded neighbors on their endorsement lists
The League of Women Voters has good info on that too! Here is their page with voting information. Here is their information on Voter ID as well. Most municipalities had good information about voting in their area. Much better than their information on how to run for office. Here is a list of phone numbers, emails and contact information for clerks in various locations in Wisconsin.
Myvote.wi.gov has that information too! Here is the portion of the website that shows you your ballot.
When do I vote? (Early and Absentee voting)
- How to do a write-in campaign? Why would you consider a write-in campaign?
- The deadline to register as a write-in candidate is 12:00 p.m. (noon) the Friday before the election.
- Counting the votes
- Municipal Judge Races
- Multi-jurisdictional Judge Races
- Where do I find elections results?
How can I find out who is running for local office?
- What is the equivalent of a county, city, village or town clerk for the school board?
- How do you recall someone?