First-of-Its-Kind Universal Health Care Referendum on the Ballot in Rural, Red Wisconsin County

By Christina Lorey

October 5, 2022

Voters in Dunn County, which includes the town of Menomonie in western Wisconsin, will have a chance to weigh in on a very important, albeit unusually progressive, question this November: Should the United States provide universal health care?

Earlier this summer, the Dunn County board unanimously approved the advisory referendum. Like other referendum questions about abortion rights or marijuana legalization, it won’t change any laws. But advocates say it could eventually lead to change.

Why It Matters

This is the first time a referendum like this is on the ballot in Wisconsin, and Dunn County, in many ways, is an unlikely place to have taken up the question.

Fifty-six percent of voters in the rural, western Wisconsin county voted for Republican former President Donald Trump in 2020, and only 42%voted for Democrat Joe Biden.

Democrats have made universal health care one of their policy priorities, while Republicans in Wisconsin have resisted expanding Medicaid and other steps in that direction.

What’s Next?

Dunn County Board member John Calabrese, who was part of the effort to introduce the referendum, hopes this measure will be part of a shift away from seeing expanded health care coverage as a left-vs.-right issue.

“I think we can speak to this issue in a way that’s not partisan,” Calabrese said.

Wisconsin polls show our state is split on healthcare. During the 2020 presidential primary, the Marquette University Law School poll found 41 percent of respondents favored Medicare for All, while 53 percent opposed it. A different 2020 poll from Change Research found 60 percent of Wisconsin respondents favored lowering health costs, while only 30 percent favored guaranteeing universal coverage.

The Bottom Line

Universal health care or not, the country’s healthcare system needs to change. 

Dunn County Board member Monica Berrier put it best:

“I don’t know how anybody can look at this and think it’s a good situation, but it’s the system that we’re stuck with. We have a responsibility to demand better of the government that serves us.”

Click here to learn more about the benefits of Universal Health Coverage from the World Health Organization.

Click here to register to vote, check your registration status, and/or find out what’s on your ballot.


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.



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