Voters cast their ballots last November at the Zwingli United Church of Christ in the Dane County community of Paoli. (Photo by Andy Manis/Getty Images)
Voters cast their ballots last November at the Zwingli United Church of Christ in the Dane County community of Paoli. (Photo by Andy Manis/Getty Images)

Polls are open until 8 p.m. for spring non-partisan races and two special elections to fill vacant seats in the state Legislature.

Voting in April barely receives a sliver of the attention that comes with presidential and other partisan races, but the contests being decided today in Wisconsin arguably have as much or more bearing on everyday life in our state’s hometowns.

Not only will a fraction of last November’s voters decide who becomes the top figure running Wisconsin’s public schools, they also hold disproportionate sway in determining who sits on a community’s school board, county board, city council or village board, who becomes mayor, who will hear cases as circuit court judges in their county, and who will become appeals court judges in their part of the state.

There are also two partisan races—each are special elections to fill vacancies in the Wisconsin Legislature.

Related: Candidates for Wisconsin’s Top Education Job Have Decidedly Different Positions

The marquee race is for the state’s top education post, Superintendent of Public Instruction. The winner assumes control of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and will assume a role held by Gov. Tony Evers for 10 years before he ran for governor, defeating incumbent Republican Scott Walker.

The DPI race pits Pecatonica School District superintendent Jill Underly against Deb Kerr, retired superintendent of the Brown Deer School District. Underly has the backing of the state’s largest teachers’ union and a wide array of Democrats, while Kerry is favored by many conservatives, including former Gov. Scott Walker.

Outside spending in the race has topped $1 million, the most ever spent by special interests trying to influence the officially nonpartisan race, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said Monday, and the most spending by outside groups since 2009, the year Evers was first elected to the position.

Underly and Kerr emerged from a seven-candidate primary in February in which only about 325,000 people voted, based on unofficial numbers. That is approximately 7.2% of the voting-age population. Turnout in the presidential election, by comparison, was 72%.

Voters who aren’t sure of their registration status or who need to know the location of their polling station can find that information and more on the mobile-friendly MyVote Wisconsin website.

Polls close at 8 p.m.

“No matter where you vote in Wisconsin, the hours are the same,” said Wisconsin Elections Commission Meagan Wolfe in a statement. “You just need to be in line by 8 p.m.”

Face coverings are still recommended for voting on Election Day but are not required.

“Even though people are being vaccinated now,” Wolfe said, “we still ask voters to observe social distancing inside and outside of polling places, and not to create disturbances about wearing or not wearing face coverings.

State law requires an acceptable photo ID to vote. Wolfe’s statement said that includes items such as a Wisconsin driver license, state ID card, US passport, military and veteran’s IDs, tribal IDs, a certificate of naturalization, and some student IDs, all of them outlined on the state’s Bring It to the Ballot website.

The special legislative elections are taking place in the 13th state Senate District seat that was recently vacated by Scott Fitzgerald, the longtime state Senate majority leader who was recently elected to the US Congress. In an unusual development, there are two conservatives running as independents along with the Republican and Democratic candidates who won their February primaries. The district includes the communities of Beaver Dam, Columbus, Juneau, Horicon and Mayville.

Voters in the 89th Assembly district—where the borders run just outside US highways 141 and 41 from Howard until they intersect with Marinette and state highway 64—will fill the seat of former Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) who won reelection in November but then resigned to take a lobbying job.

Candidates are running for the state Court of Appeals judgeships in three districts, two of which feature contests where conservative interests have spent heavily. In Appeals Court District 2, which includes 12 counties in southeastern Wisconsin, Muskego Municipal Court Judge Shelley Grogan is looking to unseat incumbent Judge Jeff Davis. In Appeals District 3, which encompasses 35 of the state’s northern counties, the race pits Wausau-based attorney Rick Cveykus against Outagamie Circuit Court Judge Greg Gill. Grogan and Gill have attracted a significant number of traditionally Republican donors. 

Locally, voters will also determine the fates of 69 school referenda across the state ranging from multimillion-dollar renovation and building projects to modest asks for funding to maintain existing services.