As a source of trusted information, libraries often receive questions about elections in their communities. Libraries should strive to be able to assist local residents with questions about elections and to direct residents to the best place to get more information about elections.
In Wisconsin, non-partisan local elections are held on the first Tuesday in April, with primary elections held on the third Tuesday in February in the same year when necessary. In general, elections for town board, village board, and city council are held in odd-numbered years, while county supervisors are elected in even years.
Other elections held in April may include the Wisconsin Supreme Court, school boards, appeals court and circuit court justices, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Presidential Preference Primary in presidential election years. The April ballot or February primary may also include statewide or local referendums, including referendums to exceed levy limits for school districts or municipalities.
General elections are held in November on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. If necessary, the fall partisan primary is held on the second Tuesday in August. Offices on the ballot in November may include president, vice-president, senator, representative, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, state senator and representative, and county offices other than supervisors. The November ballot or August primary may also include statewide or local referendums, including referendums to exceed levy limits for school districts or municipalities.
Elections for tribal officials are not usually held on the same dates as other elections in Wisconsin. Contact your local tribal government for details about election dates and deadlines in your area. Four tribal nations are located in the Northern Waters Library Service area:
- Gaa-Miskwaabikaang – the Red Cliff Reservation – is governed by an elected nine-member Tribal Council. This Tribal Council consists of a Tribal Chairperson, Vice Chair, Treasurer, Secretary, and five At Large Members. Tribal Council elections occur annually in May and July, and are staggered so the entire council cannot be replaced simultaneously. Each council member serves a two-year term. On odd years there is an election for Chairperson, Treasurer, and three At Large seats. On even years there is an election for Vice Chair, Secretary, and two At Large seats. (Source: www.redcliff-nsn.gov/election/ – April 19, 2023)
- The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians is governed by a 12 member Tribal Council. Two officers and four members of the council are elected in October for two-year terms. (Source: dpi.wi.gov/amind/tribalnationswi/ldf – April 19, 2023)
- The Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians Tribal Governing Board is an elected body of seven representatives who act as the governing authority of the Band and its tribal membership.The tribal governing board members are elected to serve four-year terms with elections staggered every two years. Following each election, the Board chooses a Chairman, Vice Chairman and Secretary-Treasurer from within its members. (Source: www.lcotribe.com/about – April 19, 2023)
- The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is governed by a seven-member Tribal Council. Elections are held annually with four positions elected one year and three the following year. (Source: dpi.wi.gov/amind/tribalnationswi/badriver – April 19, 2023)
- The St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin are governed by the five-member St. Croix Council, which is composed of five members elected biennially by popular vote. Members who are 21 years of age or older are eligible to vote. The officers of the Council shall consist of a president, vice-president, and secretary-treasurer, who shall be chosen by the Council when properly convened. The president and vice-president shall be elected from the Council membership. (Source: https://stcroixojibwe-nsn.gov/government/constitution/ – August 9, 2023)
Promoting local elections
Since most public libraries are government agencies, they are not permitted to promote specific candidates or political causes. Any 501(c)(3) organizations, including non-profit libraries or Friends of the Library groups, are also prohibited from supporting or opposing any political campaigns.
However, libraries can and should provide voter education and nonpartisan election information, and 501(c)(3) organizations are permitted to engage in voter education activities, voter registration, and get-out-the-vote drives according to IRS guidelines. There are many ways that libraries can promote local elections and encourage voter participation. Some ideas include:
- Post a copy of your municipality’s sample ballot in the library. You can get a copy from your local clerk or from MyVoteWisconsin at myvote.wi.gov/en-us/Whats-On-My-Ballot.
- Share social media messages reminding citizens about the deadlines to register to vote, request absentee ballots, and return ballots; local polling place information; and other relevant, non-partisan voting information.
- Hold a candidate “Meet & Greet” event or a candidate forum. The League of Women Voters has published Candidate Forum Guidelines that may help you plan your event. The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts has published their Moderators Handbook, which provides useful information on the format of LWV candidate events.
Here are some non-partisan resources to help you learn more about elections in Wisconsin:
- Local Government Education, a division of University of Wisconsin Extension: localgovernment.extension.wisc.edu
- The section on Running for Elected Office is particularly useful for understanding election laws: localgovernment.extension.wisc.edu/elections/
- My Vote Wisconsin: myvote.wi.gov
- Wisconsin Elections Commission: elections.wi.gov
- Vote 411: www.vote411.org/wisconsin
- BallotPedia: ballotpedia.org/Main_Page
- Directory of Wisconsin Clerks: elections.wi.gov/clerks/directory