Commentary on Madison School Board’s Unique Election Process

Chris Rickert:

Before any votes were cast last April, one of the three candidates running for two seats on the Madison School Board was a shoo-in to win even though — like the other two contenders on the ballot that day — she was running for a districtwide seat.

Over the last 20 school board elections, the same thing has happened at least four other times, and will again next month.

The reason? A school board election system that may well be unique in Wisconsin.

Madison’s current system dates to the 1980s, when state lawmakers stepped in to implement a City Council-sponsored plan to move from at-large elections to the current system. The council’s plan had been overwhelmingly rejected in 1978 by the School Board and in a citywide referendum.

Today, state law mandates that any Wisconsin school district with a city whose population is between 150,000 and 500,000 — meaning only Madison — must elect board members to at-large, numbered seats. It is likely unique among school board election systems in Wisconsin, although it appears to be in place in at least a handful of districts in Texas and perhaps elsewhere.

“Most people couldn’t wrap their heads around voting for two candidates,” said Sheryl Moore, superintendent of the Sealy (Texas) Independent School District, explaining why her board moved from at-large to numbered-seat elections.

Much more on the 2019 Madison School Board elections, here.