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Voters say referendum questions on cash bail are too confusing to comprehend

By Ben Jordan,


A pair of referendum questions on the April ballot are creating confusion at early voting sites across Wisconsin. If passed, they would change how judges determine cash bail for people charged with violent crimes.

"This should have been way more simplified than it is,” said Russell Smith of Milwaukee.

Smith participates in every election, but he says this was the first time he couldn’t figure out what he was asked to vote for or against.

"It's so confusing, if people don't understand it then they won't vote on it,” he said.

Smith’s talking about these two lengthy statewide referendum questions. The proposed constitutional amendments would give judges more factors to consider when setting bail for people charged with violent crimes.

"I don't think they wanted me to understand it in the first place,” he said.

An election inspector at a Milwaukee early voting site told TMJ4 News that she is not allowed to explain what the questions mean to voters.

Smith says he decided not to vote on the two questions.

“I refuse to just press a button just because I don't understand it,” he said.

Current Wisconsin law says judges and court commissioners can only determine cash bail to ensure the defendant returns to court.

Republican Representative Cindi Duchow of Delafield led the effort to get the questions on the ballot because she believes the changes would prevent people charged with violent crimes from reoffending while awaiting trial.

“In the simplest terms, what do these questions truly mean?” TMJ4 reporter Ben Jordan asked.

"This means we change the definition of serious harm and that a judge can look back at your past criminal convictions,” Rep. Duchow replied. “Those are the two most important things."

Rep. Duchow says attorneys who wrote the questions had to include the specific section of the Wisconsin Constitution the referendum would change.

"I feel badly that they are confusing, but I think we're still going to get it across the finish line,” she said.

If the referendums pass, the state’s constitution will be amended to become state law.

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