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Wisconsin voters to decide state Supreme Court race

April 2, 2018

FILE - In this June. 1, 2017, file photo, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge and Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate, Rebecca Dallet poses for a photo in Madison, Wis. The battle for a supposedly nonpartisan seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court is a partisan-driven slugfest that both sides see as a possible harbinger of voter attitudes heading into the fall midterms. Sensing that a victory in Tuesday's election could be a momentum-builder, a bevy of national Democrats has endorsed Rebecca Dallet, a Milwaukee County judge, over her opponent Michael Screnock, a judge appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The election of a new Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the state treasurer’s position will top the ballot in Wisconsin this week.

Those are the only two statewide questions in Tuesday’s spring election, which also features races for 53 circuit court judgeships, as well as contests for local school boards, county and municipal offices, and local referendums.

Here are key facts to know before voting:

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SUPREME COURT

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet, who is backed by liberals, faces the conservatives’ choice, Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock, for a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The winner will replace retiring Justice Michael Gableman, who was part of the court’s 5-2 conservative majority. Both Dallet and Screnock are 48 years old. She became a judge in 2008 after spending 11 years as a prosecutor. Screnock was appointed judge by Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2015 and previously worked as a private-practice attorney and local government leader.

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TREASURER AMENDMENT

A constitutional amendment on the ballot would eliminate the position of state treasurer, which has been around since Wisconsin’s territorial days 180 years ago. The Legislature, on bipartisan votes over the past two sessions, placed the amendment on the ballot to do away with the post. Those behind the measure say the position is unnecessary because its duties have been greatly reduced over the years. Those who oppose the proposed amendment say the position should be kept and strengthened. The treasurer is paid nearly $70,000 a year.

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WHEN ARE POLLS OPEN

Polls will be open statewide from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Photo identification is needed to cast a ballot and voters can register at the polls.

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TURNOUT

Turnout for the past seven spring elections with a contested Supreme Court race on the ballot has averaged 21.5 percent. That is less than half of the 50 percent average for the past four midterm elections. Snow and rain forecast across the state could dampen turnout.

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WHY DOES SUPREME COURT RACE MATTER

Whoever is elected won’t shift control of the court away from conservatives but could decrease their 5-2 majority. Partisans on both sides are also pointing to the race, the first statewide contest in the U.S. this year, as a possible bellwether of voter attitudes heading into the fall midterms. But Wisconsin Supreme Court races have historically not been a consistent predictor of what voters will do in November.

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KEY ENDORSEMENTS

Dallet has the endorsement of more than 200 judges, more than 150 other elected officials and prominent national Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden. Screnock has been endorsed the anti-abortion groups Wisconsin Family Action, Right to Life Wisconsin and Pro-Life Wisconsin, as well as dozens of county sheriffs, the state chamber of commerce and the National Rifle Association.

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PARTISAN INFLUENCES

The Wisconsin Republican Party is spending about $400,000 to help Screnock, who has been endorsed by Walker. The state chamber of commerce, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, spent about $950,000 on television ads for Screnock as of Friday, based on a tally by the New York University law school’s Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks spending on judicial races. One of those ads attacking Dallet drew criticism from family members who say it reveals enough details of a case involving child victims of sexual assaults to identify the victims. Screnock refused to criticize the ad and WMC did not remove it from the air.

Dallet has benefited from $165,000 spent by a group run by former Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee has spent about $650,000 on ads attacking Screnock.

Dallet traveled to San Francisco last month to raise money from Democrats there, she spoke at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention last year and has been endorsed by a wide array of Democratic office holders.

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POSITIONS

Both Dallet and Screnock say the other can’t be trusted to be impartial and instead will advocate for the partisans who backed their campaigns. Dallet argues that conservatives have politicized the courts and that she would advocate for empowering women, fighting for clean air and water, and combatting opioid abuse. Screnock argues that he’s beholden to the rule of law and a strict interpretation of the constitution, arguments that conservative candidates have used successfully in recent Supreme Court elections.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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