Tag Archives: state

Public’s trust was abused over police videos

On Aug. 14, after a night of unrest prompted by the fatal police shooting of a black man, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said his review of body camera video of the incident proved the officer had acted appropriately.

“The individual did turn toward the officer with a firearm in his hand,” Flynn stated, later saying the man, 23-year-old Sylville Smith, “was raising up with” the gun.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said a still photo he was shown from the video “demonstrates, without question, that (Smith) had a gun in his hand.” In fact, Barrett declared, the officer “ordered that individual to drop his gun, the individual did not drop his gun.”

This purportedly exculpatory video itself was not promptly released, despite requests from Barrett and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that this occur. It still has not been released. But we know now that public officials did not give an accurate account of what it shows.

Bill Lueders, Your Right to Know columnist
Bill Lueders, Your Right to Know columnist

We know that because, in mid-December, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm filed criminal charges against Dominique Heaggan-Brown, the former Milwaukee police officer who killed Smith. (Heaggan-Brown was fired over an alleged sexual assault shortly after the shooting.)

According to the criminal complaint charging the officer with first-degree reckless homicide, Smith held a gun as the officer fired his first shot. Smith, struck in the arm, pitched the gun over a fence and fell to the ground. The officer then fired a second, fatal shot to Smith’s chest.

“A review of the body camera video from (both officers at the scene) confirms that at the time of the second shot, Smith was unarmed and had his hands near his head,” the complaint says.

A 2014 state law governing investigations of police shootings requires that gathered materials be released if a decision is made not to file charges. The law is otherwise silent as to whether and when these materials are released.

Barrett has renewed his call for release, while Flynn has weighed in against this. Chisholm told me his office will not release this evidence prior to its use in a criminal proceeding.

In this case, I believe, it is already too late to restore confidence in the integrity of the process. Flynn’s representations about the video were at best misleading, and Barrett’s statements suggest he was misled, as was the public.

The whole point of outfitting police with cameras, at taxpayer expense, is to ensure truthfulness and enhance accountability. That did not happen here. And many more months may pass before the video is released.

Other jurisdictions have more enlightened policies. In Chicago, for instance, videos of police shootings are normally released within 60 days, and posted online.

In the legislative session that begins in January, there will likely be renewed efforts to establish consistent state policies regarding police body cameras; a bill to do so in the last session went nowhere.

Now is the time, in the wake of this regrettable case, for the citizens of Wisconsin to insist that the video records they are paying for are not kept secret, or used to mislead them.

Timber company’s sand plants would destroy Wisconsin wetlands

A timber company subsidiary is looking to build a pair of sand processing facilities in western Wisconsin that would eliminate more than 16 acres of wetlands.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Meteor Timber wants to build sand drying plant along Interstate 94 in Monroe County and a sand mine 14 miles away in neighboring Jackson County. Together the facilities would be valued at $65 million and create nearly 100 jobs, the newspaper reported.

Sand would be trucked from the mine to the drying plant. Meteor would build a 10-mile railroad spur to a Union Pacific line to transport the sand to Texas oil fields, where it would be used for hydraulic fracking.

The project would eliminate 16.6 acres of wetlands, including more than 13 acres of hardwood swamp. Jeffrey M. Olson, a section chief for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, called some of that land pristine, saying it’s never been touched.

The state Department of Natural Resources has issued 60 wetland permits to sand operators since 2008, allowing the destruction of 26 acres.

Meteor’s wetland use would amount to 60 percent of that total.

Meteor needs approval from both the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed. Both entities require that disturbing wetlands be avoided whenever possible but Meteor is trying to persuade the DNR and the corps that no alternative sites are suitable.

Midwest Environmental Advocates, an environmental law firm, is representing the Ho-Chunk Nation, which has tribal trust lands in the area. The firm is urging the corps and the DNR to deny permits for the project. Sarah Greers, an attorney for the firm, questioned why other sites can’t be found and why the company wants to build the facilities since the sand mining industry has slowed.

Christopher Mathis, managing director of real estate for Meteor, said in a statement to the Journal Sentinel that the company is sensitive to wetland impacts but can’t find any other commercially viable sites.

Meteor would preserve 358 acres on the property, shut down a cranberry marsh and remove dams from the marsh to naturalize a creek on the property, the Journal Sentinel reported. The company also would pay to restore wetlands in the same watershed.

Meteor, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Timberland Investment Resources, has nearly 50,000 acres in forest holdings in Wisconsin.

 

 

Record number of eagle and osprey nests in Wisconsin

Wisconsin wildlife officials say they’ve counted a record number of occupied eagle and osprey nests this year.

Aerial survey results released Tuesday show 1,504 occupied eagle nests, which is 39 more than last year, and 558 occupied osprey nests — 16 more than last year, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

“The recovery of bald eagles in Wisconsin is a great conservation success story and one that more Wisconsin residents are seeing up close as eagles expand into new territories,” said Drew Feldkirchner, director of the natural heritage conservation program for the state.

The state’s osprey population dramatically declined between the 1950s and the early 1970s as shoreline habitat was developed.

Today, 75 percent of state osprey nests are built on platforms erected on utility poles, cellphone towers and other tall structures.

“We’re also very pleased to see osprey numbers continue to climb and appreciate our partnership with utility companies and other partners to provide artificial nesting platforms for these birds,” Feldkirchner said.

State Department of Natural Resources pilots conducted the survey in March and April.

The state said it didn’t conduct a second aerial survey as in past springs to gauge reproductive success because the populations are healthy and growing and resources are being shifted to survey other non-game species, the State Journal reported.

 

Cities with Nativity scenes ignore takedown demands

A historic Hispanic city in New Mexico has one in the center of town on public property. A small farming community in Colorado has another outside of a public park. A Pennsylvania city refused to take its Nativity display down despite a legal threat.

Across the county, annual disputes over Nativity displays on public land have pitted local residents against advocacy groups pushing separation of church and state.

But after years of complaints, communities continue to resist demands that they remove public display celebrating the birth of Jesus from public property.

The moves come after town residents have rallied around the displays or conservative groups have offered legal assistance to keep displays up amid legal threats.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead issue,” said Jerah Cordova, the mayor of Belen, New Mexico, where a Nativity scene artwork sits year-round and was not taken down following threats of legal action last year. “The Nativity scene not only represents the history of our town, it represents our culture.”

Belen — Spanish for Bethlehem — is a small city of 7,000 people and nearly 70 percent Latino. Last year, residents raised $50,000 for a festival in support of the Nativity display following a letter threatening legal action.

In Franklin, Pennsylvania, a city of 6,500, councilors last month voted to keep a decades-old Nativity scene in a city park after receiving an email from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The foundation has sent similar letters warning municipalities that public Nativity scenes violated the separation of church and state.

Franklin’s city councilors consulted lawyers and resolve the issue by agreeing to allow other secular Christmas decoration s in the park.

Officials in St. Bernard, Ohio, a suburban of Cincinnati, ignored a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and opted to keep in place nativity scene displayed in front of City Hall.

In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, tourists visit to see miniature replicas depict various settings of the Nativity story. That display is run by the nonprofit, Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites and is not connected to the city government.

In previous years, some municipalities pulled Nativity scenes after receiving complaints from the foundation. For example, officials in Wadena, Minnesota removed its decades-old traditional Nativity scene off public property following a letter from the foundation.

Supporters and opponents of the Nativity scenes agree that municipalities are fighting harder to protect the displays.

“We are seeing more municipalities digging in after learning about their rights,” said Mat Staver, who heads the right-wing, anti-gay Liberty Counsel, which offers the municipalities advice to protect them and volunteered free legal help for Franklin, Pennsylvania.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said more cities and towns simply ignore complaints that placing Christian art on public property violates the U.S. Constitution.

In recent years, conservative Christians have vocally complained about the secularization of Christmas, said Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We also are seeing a rural and city divide where rural areas are facing less resistance (to Nativity scenes) while there is more conflict in cities, which are more diverse,” Chesnut said.

Gaylor said some cities and towns are getting around the conflict by setting up public spaces where volunteers can erect Nativity scenes along with secular Christmas displays.

“But we don’t think putting a couple of reindeer up near a Nativity scene solves the problem,” Gaylor said.

Pressure has forced some cities to scrap plans for Nativity scene displays.

In Gig Harbor, Washington — a maritime city near Tacoma — officials blocked residents from putting up a display after getting a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That prompted a small protest in the city of 7,000 people this week from residents who wanted a Nativity scene.

When cities and state allow the public spaces, Gaylor said the foundation tries to submit its own display. In some states, the foundation put up a Nativity scene with James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the Statue of Liberty. Instead of baby Jesus in a manger, the group put in place a copy of the Bill of Rights.

In New Mexico, Cordova predicted Belen will never remove its Nativity scene.

“It’s here to stay,” he said.

 

Wisconsin citizens want legislative maps redrawn before next state elections

Wisconsin citizens have asked a U.S. District Court to redraw state legislative maps in advance of the next round of elections.

The request comes after a federal trial that resulted in the state’s district maps being ruled unconstitutional for being an illegal partisan gerrymander.

“The court’s verdict last month was clear — Wisconsin’s legislative maps are unconstitutional, and the GOP majority violated the rights of Wisconsin’s citizens when they adopted the map,” stated Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized and launched the lawsuit.

Chheda said on Dec. 21 the plaintiffs in the case “formally asked that the maps be replaced, so we can have free and fair elections in the state of Wisconsin. The citizens of Wisconsin should have a chance to elect a government which represents us.”

The recent ruling in Whitford v. Gill came after a May 2016 trial.

A majority of the federal three-judge panel overseeing the case ruled in favor of the 12 Wisconsin Democrats who filed suit more than a year ago.  The ruling represents the first time a map has been overturned by a federal court for being a political gerrymander.

In a separate filing this week, the state of Wisconsin — which lost the trial — asked for any further action in the District Court to be put on hold until its U.S. Supreme Court appeal is heard and decided.

The state wants the High Court to overturn the trial court’s decision and to allow the Legislature to redraw maps.

The citizen plaintiffs, in contrast, argue the redrawing process should take place during the appeal in order to ensure the maps are in place in a timely manner. The plaintiffs also asked the court to draw the maps, rather than allow another biased effort by a legislative majority to create the boundaries.

“Every Wisconsin citizen deserves the right to have their vote count,” said state Sen. Dale Schultz, a former Republican Majority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate, who co-chairs the Fair Elections Project. “The plaintiffs won at trial, they won twice earlier in the process when the state tried to short-circuit this case, and now they are likely to win at the Supreme Court.”

“What happened in Wisconsin in 2011 was an egregious violation of our state’s moral values,” added Sen. Tim Cullen, a former Democratic Majority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate, who serves as the other co-chair of the project. “Instead of voters choosing their elected officials, the Republican majority in Wisconsin decided they would entrench themselves in power despite the views of voters. The court has said clearly that will not stand.”

Filed in July 2015, the lawsuit demands district maps for the state Legislature be thrown out, calling the line-drawing process “secretive” and “partisan.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Peter Earle and Doug Poland as co-lead trial counsel, Prof. Nicholas Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago Law School, Michele Odorizzi of Mayer Brown, and a team from the Campaign Legal Center, including Gerry Hebert and Ruth Greenwood.

Wisconsin DNR: CAFOs could write own pollution permit applications

Large farms could hire experts to craft their pollution and construction permit applications under a reorganization plan the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced this week.

The agency has been working on reorganizing since July 2015 to deal with a growing workload and the state’s tight budget constraints. DNR officials issued a news release this week announcing the plan, calling it a “strategic realignment effort,” but the release contains very few details.

The cornerstone of the plan would allow concentrated animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs, to hire qualified consultants to craft applications for manure handling and construction permits.

The idea, DNR Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede said, is to reduce the back-and-forth DNR staff currently engage in with farmers to get their applications up to speed, freeing up staff to perform more frequent permit compliance checks in the field.

Developers looking to perform shore stabilization work and pond construction also would be allowed to use consultants to help craft their permit applications as well. “They’re writing the information to help inform that permit,” Thiede said.

The plan mirrors a controversial approach DNR has used for wetland building permit applications for a decade — engineers and other consultants are allowed to help craft developers’ applications, said Jeffrey Voltz, deputy administrator of the DNR’s external services division.

The DNR plans to speak with stakeholders in the coming months to determine what qualifications CAFO and shore consultants will need.

A state audit in June found the DNR wasn’t following its own policies for policing pollution from large farms and wastewater plants.

The audit also found that the agency had been extending permits without review for years and that staffers lacked time to thoroughly monitor large livestock operations. Environmental groups were outraged by the findings.

Amber Meyer Smith, government relations director for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, said it’s unclear how allowing outside consultants help with permit applications might change things for both farms and the DNR.

“There are certainly efficiency measures included in today’s announcement, but a lot of questions remain,” Meyer Smith said.

Paul Zimmerman, executive director of government relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said the move would reduce duplicative work for farms and the DNR.

“You’re hiring a licensed professional to do his or her job,” Zimmerman said. “Those licenses have to mean something. The idea is to free up staff time.”

The overall reorganization plan will affect about 5 percent of the DNR’s 2,549 full-time employees, according to the news release.

Changes will range from position descriptions, reporting structure and division assignments as the agency moves from seven operational units to five, including Forestry; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Environmental Management; Internal Services; and External Services.

The Bureau of Science Services’ remaining 19 researchers will join other programs as well as a new Office of Applied Sciences.

A new bureau will focus on real estate and property planning and staff working on water-related sediment cleanups will be combined with staff working on soil cleanups. Thiede said the move would allow managers to more closely monitor researchers’ work.

The state budget Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed last year eliminated 19 researchers from the Bureau of Science Services. The scientists had been working on a number of politically charged issues, including climate change, pollution and mining. Democrats blasted the cuts as political payback.

The reorganization plan also calls for shifting 33 ranger positions into warden positions. Thiede said rangers spend little time on law enforcement. The move would still leave more than 100 rangers in state parks but they wouldn’t have law enforcement credentials. Some of the 33 rangers whose positions would disappear could apply for warden jobs or elect to stay in the parks without law enforcement powers.

The news release said the plan would be implemented in phases with final changes anticipated by early 2018. Thiede said some portions of it may require legislative approval.

Wisconsin faces nearly $700 million budget hole

Gov. Scott Walker says the state is on track to face a nearly $700 million budget shortfall by mid-2019.

The estimate from the state Department of Administration is the first to take into account spending requests made by state agencies for the next two years.

The $693 million gap is about 2 percent of what state agencies requested in funding and is far from the $2.2 billion gap that existed at this same point two years ago.

State law requires a balanced budget.

What comes next is the every-two-year push and pull between what state agencies say they need, what the governor proposed they get and what the Legislature ultimately passes.

The drama plays out in stages.

Walker will likely submit his budget, with scaled back funding from what agencies asked for, in February.

The Legislature, where the Republicans will have their largest majorities in decades, will then spend months rewriting the spending plan before passing it likely in June.

Walker can then move things back closer to what he wanted through his powerful veto authority.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald declined to weigh in on the report’s findings. His spokeswoman, Myranda Tanck, said Fitzgerald would withhold comment until after he could review Walker’s budget proposal in a couple months.

Other legislative leaders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The state budget affects nearly every person’s life in the state, including how much gas costs, when hunting season begins and ends, eligibility for state-funded health insurance through Medicaid, and how much income, sales and property should be taxed.

Writing the budget could also be affected by changes coming out of Washington, with Republicans in full control of Congress working with Donald Trump as president.

Their promises to either repeal or replace large portions of the federal health care law and move toward different ways of sending money to the states for such things as Medicaid and highways could alter Wisconsin’s budget picture.

Walker and Republicans both in the state and nationally, have talked about moving toward block grant funding for the states that would give policy makers more flexibility but that Democrats and opponents fear could lead to less money going toward programs like Medicaid that help the poor and disadvantaged.

The state budget estimate for the next two years will be further refined in January when the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau releases likely figures for state tax revenue in the next two years.

The next state budget will run from July 1 through June 30, 2019.

Minnesota court overturns ban on transition-related surgery

A Minnesota district court ruled this week that transgender people on the state’s Medical Assistance program deserve access to medically necessary services related to gender transition.

Since 2005, surgical treatments for gender dysphoria have been excluded from coverage even though equivalent treatments were covered under the federal Medicare program and private insurance plans.

In December 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the ACLU of Minnesota, filed a lawsuit on behalf of OutFront Minnesota and Evan Thomas, a transgender man, challenging Minnesota’s ban on coverage.

Thomas was denied coverage for transition related surgery, despite being diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

In a statement to the press released on Nov. 16, Thomas said, “I’m so happy we’ve won. The judge’s ruling is a forceful statement that transgender people deserve equal treatment under the law. Right now, when we’re suddenly facing a path that’s so much rougher than it looked a few days ago, this victory looks even more important, and I’m proud to have been part of this case. I thank the ACLU for taking it on and winning such a good ruling — it’s been a privilege to work with these wonderful, dedicated people.”

OutFront, Minnesota’s largest LGBTQ rights organization, also was a  plaintiff.

“OutFront Minnesota is delighted by this ruling, confirming what we knew all along: targeting transgender people like this is discriminatory, unconstitutional, and wrong.  Since filing this suit, we have been contacted by many individuals and families whose access to health care has been unjustly harmed. At last we can provide some hopeful news that the care they need may now be within reach,” Phil Duran, legal director of OutFront Minnesota, said in a news release.

Added Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Project: “The victory will bring immediate relief to the scores of transgender people living in Minnesota being denied the medical care they need. Singling out groups of people and denying them medically necessary care for no legitimate reason is wrong and harmful. We are glad the court agreed with respecting the dignity of people.”

The case was filed in Ramsey County District Court against Emily Johnson-Piper, the commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Human Services.

 

Election Day from coast to coast: Key races in every state

 

Much more is at stake on Election Day than the White House. State by state, district by district, neighborhood by neighborhood, candidates and campaigners are making their last pitch for Congress, state legislatures, governor’s offices, ballot questions, judgeships, city councils and lots more.

A nationwide look at important, interesting and occasionally odd matters that go before voters today:

ALABAMA

Alabama voters must decide on 14 statewide constitutional amendments affecting everything from funding for state parks and the age of public officeholders to beer. Yes, beer. The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board wants to require brewers to report the name, address, age and phone number from anyone who purchases beer at one of the state’s craft breweries for off-premises consumption.

ALASKA

Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is up for re-election, and the race has drawn not one but three foes: Democrat Ray Metcalfe, independent Margaret Stock, and Joe Miller, who upset Murkowski in the 2010 GOP primary only to then lose the general election in a historic write-in campaign. This time Miller is running as a Libertarian.

ARIZONA

Eight years after losing his bid for president, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain is running for re-election. McCain has publicly struggled with whether to support GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who called McCain a loser and criticized him for being captured during the Vietnam War. Marijuana is on the ballot; voters could legalize the drug for recreational use by adults. Minimum wage could rise to $12 an hour by 2020 under a separate ballot measure. Metro Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America, is fighting for his job after a criminal indictment stemming from his immigration patrols.

ARKANSAS

Arkansas could become the first Southern state to legalize medical marijuana, although a similar proposal lost by less than 30,000 votes a year ago, out of 1.3 million votes cast. Republicans are expected to hold all four of Arkansas’ U.S. House seats. Democrats are fielding a candidate in only one district.

CALIFORNIA

Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s retirement creates a rare open seat, and for the first time in the modern era, no Republican will be on the ballot. Thanks to California’s unusual primary system, in which the two top finishers from the June primary advance to the general election, voters will decide between two Democrats _ state Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez. The statewide ballot has a whopping 17 propositions, the most on a single ballot since March 2000. There’s a measure to legalize recreational marijuana and one requiring porn actors to wear condoms. Voters will weigh in twice on the death penalty. One measure would repeal capital punishment while another seeks to speed up the process.

COLORADO

Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is running for re-election against a tea party-aligned opponent, conservative Darryl Glenn, who has struggled to raise funds after national party leaders refused to endorse his candidacy. In a hotly contested House race, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman is facing a challenge from Democratic state Sen. Morgan Carroll in suburban Denver. The chief ballot questions would allow medical aid in dying and create a universal health care system within the state.

CONNECTICUT

The five Democrats who make up the state’s U.S. House delegation face re-election, including Rosa DeLauro, the longest serving member in the group who is seeking a 14th term. Dr. William Petit, whose wife and two daughters were murdered in a 2007 home invasion, is running as a Republican for the Legislature against state Rep. Betty Boukus, an 11-term Democrat who heads the powerful House bonding subcommittee.

DELAWARE

Voters will elect a new congressional representative and a new governor, while Republicans are hoping to end years of Democratic rule in the General Assembly by regaining control of the state Senate. Democratic U.S. Rep. John Carney Jr. is making a second run for governor against Republican state Sen. Colin Bonini. Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester and Republican Hans Reigle are vying for the state’s lone U.S. House seat.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Voters in the nation’s capital will decide whether they want their city to become the 51st state. The measure, backed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, should pass easily, but that’s probably as far as it goes. Congress would need to approve any such change and Republicans are unlikely to go along with it. With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by 12-1 in the city, statehood would tip the balance in the U.S. Senate with two more Democrats.

FLORIDA

Florida voters will decide whether Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio gets a second term. They’ll also pick at least eight new U.S. House members after districts were redrawn to comply with the state constitution, and will cast ballots on legalizing medical marijuana. Rubio faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, while ex-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist hopes to revive his political career _ now as a Democrat _ in a race against Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly in a St. Petersburg-area district.

GEORGIA

Democrat Jim Barksdale and Libertarian Allen Buckley are challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who seeks a third term. Barksdale, who owns an Atlanta investment firm, gave $3.5 million toward his first political campaign, but has struggled to get momentum against the well-known Isakson. Georgia voters also will decide on a constitutional amendment allowing the state to take over low-performing schools.

HAWAII

Voters in Honolulu must make two separate choices after U.S. Rep. Mark Takai died in office: Someone to fill his seat for the remaining two months of his term, and someone to represent the district for the next two years. Voter confusion could lead to two different people winning the same seat, to serve two different terms. In heavily Democratic Hawaii, the only state Senate seat held by a Republican, Sam Slom, could flip. That would make Hawaii the first state in the nation to have a one-party legislative body since 1980.

IDAHO

Republicans will dominate at the top of the ticket, leaving an open seat on Idaho’s Supreme Court as the most competitive race. Twin Falls attorney Robyn Brody and Republican state Sen. Curt McKenzie are in a tight, nonpartisan race.

ILLINOIS

Illinois is home to one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the country, with Republican incumbent Mark Kirk and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Kirk, a first-term senator, is considered one of the more vulnerable Republicans, and polls have indeed shown Duckworth with a comfortable lead. Wealthy Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has spent record amounts on down-ballot races in hopes of tilting the Democrat-leaning Legislature toward the GOP so he can press his own policy agenda in second half of his term.

INDIANA

With Republican Gov. Mike Pence on the national ticket as Trump’s running mate, the governor’s office is up for grabs. And this is another state with a U.S. Senate race that will be crucial to determining party control. A former governor and U.S. senator, Democrat Evan Bayh, wants to return to the Senate and faces Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Young. Democrats are hoping to gain enough seats in the General Assembly to break the current Republican stranglehold.

IOWA

Republican Charles Grassley is seeking a seventh U.S. Senate term and trying to retain a seat his party has held since 1957. Democrats are optimistic that their candidate, Patty Judge, can break that winning streak, given her previous elections to statewide office as agriculture secretary and lieutenant governor. Two of Iowa’s four U.S. House races are expected to be especially competitive.

KANSAS

Democrats are seeking to cut into Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature and oust more allies of term-limited GOP Gov. Sam Brownback. Conservatives and abortion opponents are seeking to remove four Kansas Supreme Court justices in hopes of giving Brownback a chance to remake the court ahead of major abortion and school funding rulings.

KENTUCKY

Voters will decide whether to send Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who made an early run for the presidency, back to Washington for a second term. His Democratic opponent is Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. Voters also will determine whether the only legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats remains so. Republicans need to pick up four seats to win a majority in the Kentucky House for the first time since 1920.

LOUISIANA

Two dozen _ that’s right, two dozen _ candidates are vying for an open seat in the U.S. Senate after incumbent David Vitter decided not to seek re-election. One of them is white supremacist David Duke, who is not among the top-tier candidates in polling. Because no candidate is likely to get the 50-percent-plus-one majority needed to win outright, the top vote-getters will head to a Dec. 10 runoff that could end up determining which party gains control of the U.S. Senate for the next two years.

MAINE

Mainers will decide whether to make marijuana legal for everyone over age 21. Maine is one of nine states considering ballot questions on pot legalization for recreational or medicinal use. Another initiative would require background checks before the sale or transfer of firearms between people who aren’t licensed dealers. And one would boost the hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 by 2020.

MARYLAND

Voters will pick a replacement for the popular Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring after 30 years in the U.S. Senate. U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a seven-term Democrat, is running against Kathy Szeliga, minority whip in the state House of Delegates. She has sought to portray Van Hollen as an insider of dysfunctional Washington. Baltimore will choose a new mayor.

MASSACHUSETTS

Massachusetts voters will also vote on marijuana legalization, as well as a proposed expansion of charter schools. There are a handful of congressional contests, with Democratic U.S. Reps. Richard Neal, Niki Tsongas, Joe Kennedy, Stephen Lynch and William Keating all facing challengers.

MICHIGAN

It’s the Democrats’ last shot to disrupt the GOP’s agenda or Republicans will lead the Legislature all eight years of GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s tenure. At least a dozen GOP-held House districts _ half with incumbents, half open due to term limits _ will determine which party secures the minimum 56 seats needed. Democrats have targeted two GOP-held U.S. House districts, while two spots on the Michigan Supreme Court represent the most significant statewide races.

MINNESOTA

A trio of competitive congressional races takes top billing in Minnesota. Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan will try to fend off a rematch challenge from Republican Stewart Mills to hang on to a northeastern Minnesota district that has been a liberal stronghold for decades. The result has been one of the most expensive House elections in the country. Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen will be defending his suburban Minneapolis seat, while the two parties jostle over another suburban district that opened with a top Republican’s retirement.

All 201 state House and Senate seats are on the ballot in an election to determine legislative majorities. Voters will also decide whether to hand off legislators’ power to set their own pay to an independent council.

MISSISSIPPI

All four of Mississippi’s U.S. House members _ three Republicans and one Democrat _ are up for re-election. All are likely to prevail. Four of the nine state Supreme Court seats will also be filled, as will four of 10 seats on the state Court of Appeals.

MISSOURI

Missouri voters will decide whether to send U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt to a second term, or choose Democratic challenger Jason Kander instead. It’s a race that will help decide party control of the Senate, and polls have indicated a toss-up for months. Meanwhile, Missouri’s contentious campaign for governor has been the nation’s most expensive. Republican newcomer Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, has campaigned largely on his military record, while Attorney General Chris Koster has endorsements from the Missouri Farm Bureau and National Rifle Association, which typically support Republicans.

MONTANA

Popular Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is up for a second term in the conservative-leaning state against software entrepreneur Greg Gianforte, who spent more than $5.6 million of his own money on his campaign. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke is seeking to hold off a determined challenge from Democrat Denise Juneau to maintain a two-decade Republican lock on Montana’s sole House seat. Pot is also on the ballot, with a measure that would loosen many of the restrictions imposed on the state’s medical marijuana program with a 2011 state law that limited marijuana providers to three patients each.

NEBRASKA

Nebraska voters have the opportunity to reinstate the death penalty and reverse last year’s decision by the Legislature. The citizen-led ballot measure has triggered millions in campaign spending. In one of the country’s most competitive congressional races, Republicans are looking to defeat first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford, who promotes himself as a champion of bipartisanship. His opponent, Don Bacon, is a retired Air Force brigadier general who is running as a Washington outsider.

NEVADA

Nevada is home to one of the most expensive U.S. Senate races in the country, featuring lots of TV ads about the seat being vacated by Democratic leader Harry Reid. The race is between U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican, and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, a former Nevada attorney general trying to become the first Latina U.S. senator. Recreational marijuana is also on the ballot, raising the possibility of pot shops springing up near the Las Vegas Strip.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire is a presidential swing state, and home to a tight U.S. Senate contest between Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. It’s one of a half-dozen races that could help determine which party controls the Senate. Two members of the U.S. House, Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern, are vying to replace Hassan as governor.

NEW JERSEY

One of the nastiest U.S. House races in the country this year has pitted a Republican incumbent, Rep. Scott Garrett, against Democrat Josh Gottheimer. In a district that stretches from wealthy New York City suburbs to the state’s rural northwestern corner, the two candidates have called each other liars and engaged in a war of words and accusations to rival the presidential candidates. New Jersey voters will also decide on a proposed expansion of casino gambling.

NEW MEXICO

There’s little suspense at the top of the ticket, with all three U.S. House incumbents expected to be re-elected, so Republicans are focused on defending their narrow majority in the state House. The party took over in 2014, ending 60 years of Democratic control. The criminal conviction and resignation of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran in 2015, for embezzlement and money laundering related to her gambling addiction, has opened that office. The race is between Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Republican state lawmaker Nora Espinoza.

NEW YORK

Voters will decide whether the Republican Party maintains control of the state Senate or Democrats secure total control of state government. The outcome is likely to come down to a handful of competitive races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.

NORTH CAROLINA

As a focal point in battles over transgender rights and voter ID laws, North Carolina may be the state where social and ideological divisions are the most defining this election year. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is in a tight race against Democrat Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general. Former state Rep. Deborah Ross is presenting a strong challenge to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr in one of the most closely watched Senate races.

NORTH DAKOTA

As this state’s energy- and agriculture-dependent economy falters, voters will choose a new governor to lead it through increasingly troubled financial times. But with Republican Doug Burgum a heavy favorite in this reliably red state, five ballot measures may be of most interest. Among the most-watched will be a measure that would make it legal to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana for medical purposes.

OHIO

Early on, former Gov. Ted Strickland looked like one of the Democrats’ best bets to flip a U.S. Senate seat in his party’s favor. He’s running again Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman. Then outside groups spent more than $50 million to beat Strickland, who also lost key union endorsements and was up against a formidable voter outreach and turnout effort by Portman. Now the seat looks pretty safe for the GOP.

OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma voters will be watching a ballot issue that targets the state’s chronically low teacher salaries and one that would enshrine the death penalty in the state constitution, even as executions remain on hold after mistakes in two recent lethal injections.

OREGON

A Republican is threatening to win statewide office for the first time in many years, in a battle for secretary of state that is the hottest in Oregon. Democrat Brad Avakian is running ads saying his GOP rival is “extreme like Trump.” Republican Dennis Richardson has racked up endorsements from numerous newspapers and even from two prominent members of Avakian’s own party.

PENNSYLVANIA

Since 1948, no Democrat has won the White House without winning Pennsylvania. There’s also a hot U.S. Senate race between Democratic challenger Katie McGinty and Republican incumbent Pat Toomey, who is among the most vulnerable Republicans as the GOP struggles to retain its majority. Spending on that campaign is on track to hit $140 million.

RHODE ISLAND

Voters in Rhode Island, a state that has seen its share of political corruption, will decide whether to expand the authority of the state’s ethics commission. They’ll also be asked whether to allow a new casino.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott , the South’s first black senator since Reconstruction, is running for his first full term. He was appointed to the seat in 2013 following the resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint, then won election to the final two years of that term. Democrat Thomas Dixon, a community activist and pastor, is challenging him. Then there’s Democrat Dimitri Cherny, whose platform includes colonizing the moon and Mars in case the Earth becomes uninhabitable. He’s challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, the ex-governor whom voters sent back to Congress in 2013.

SOUTH DAKOTA

The main suspense is likely to be the fate of 10 ballot questions on topics ranging from public campaign funding to payday loan interest rates.

TENNESSEE

Democrats are hoping to chip away at vast Republican majorities in the state Legislature by focusing on urban areas, while the GOP is seeking to stamp out the last vestiges of Democratic support in rural parts of the state.

TEXAS

Texas’ only competitive congressional race looks to be the rematch between Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and former Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego in a district that sprawls from San Antonio to suburban El Paso, including 800-plus miles of U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Hurd unseated Gallego in 2014. The entire Texas House also is up for election, along with 16 of the state Senate’s 31 seats. Regardless of the outcomes, both chambers will remain Republican-controlled.

UTAH

The independent campaign of Evan McMullin has made Utah suddenly relevant in presidential politics. If the former CIA operative, a Mormon, can win the state and claim its six electoral votes, it could upend Donald Trump’s chances for the White House end five decades of reliably voting for the Republican nominee.

VERMONT

This state, considered among the most liberal in the country, may well elect a Republican governor. That race pits Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, against former state Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, a Democrat.

VIRGINIA

Barbara Comstock, a first term GOP congresswoman, is trying to fend off a serious challenge from Democrat LuAnn Bennett. Trump’s unpopularity in northern Virginia has loomed large in the race, with Bennett trying to tie Comstock to the presidential nominee. In the crowded race for mayor of Richmond, the front-runner is Joe Morrissey, a former state lawmaker who went to jail for having sex with his then-17-year-old receptionist, who is now his wife

WEST VIRGINIA

Republicans are hoping to ride on the coattails of an expected strong showing for Trump, who has promised to put coal miners back to work. In the governor’s race, Democrat Jim Justice, a billionaire coal and agriculture magnate, faces Bill Cole, the state Senate president. In the state auditor’s race, Democrat Mary Ann Claytor is vying to become the first African-American statewide officeholder in West Virginia history.

WASHINGTON

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is seeking a second term. He faces Republican Bill Bryant, a former Seattle port commissioner who says Inslee has mismanaged the state’s mental health system and failed to fund K-12 education as mandated by the state Supreme Court. Six initiatives are on the statewide ballot, including raising the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour by 2020 and imposing a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels.

WISCONSIN

It’s 2010 all over again in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race. This time, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is the incumbent and former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is the challenger. Johnson argues that having been fired once by voters, Feingold does not deserve to be sent back. But Feingold says Johnson has not led on the issues Wisconsin voters care about and should not be given a second term.

WYOMING

Republican Liz Cheney is heavily favored to win Wyoming’s only seat in the U.S. House, which was formerly held by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. Her opponent, Democrat Ryan Greene, works for an oilfield services company. Wyoming voters also will decide whether to allow the state to invest potentially billions more in the stock market, changing a state law that limits investments.

Wisconsin officials stand firm on absentee ballot requirements despite problems

Wisconsin elections officials are standing firm on what must be included on an absentee ballot in order for it to be counted, a position supported by state law that could lead to thousands of votes being tossed.

A new Wisconsin law says absentee ballots that are “missing the address of a witness” can’t be counted, but it doesn’t define how much address information is needed for the ballot to count. That’s led to questions from local election clerks about how to handle ballots with missing information.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission advised earlier that the witness should provide a street number, street name and name of municipality, a stance that Elections Commission administrator Mike Haas reiterated in a memo Wednesday.

“The staff continues to believe the current guidance on the issue strikes the appropriate balance,” Haas wrote.

A more strict reading of the law, requiring additional information such as a zip code, state and apartment number, is defensible but “seemed overly harsh in practice,” Haas said.

The recommendation will be voted on at the commission’s Friday meeting.

Milwaukee elections administrator Neil Albrecht, who told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that the requirement could lead to thousands of ballots not counting, did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

Albrecht had asked the commission for the authority to send letters to voters saying his staff will fill in the witnesses’ address unless the voter advises otherwise. But the commission told clerks they must obtain the voter’s consent before adding such information.

There were 70,740 absentee ballots cast in Wisconsin as of Oct. 7 — only a fraction of the total absentee votes that ultimately will be cast, as more in-person early voting locations are opened and the Nov. 8 election nears.

The law requiring witness addresses on absentee ballots was signed by Gov. Scott Walker in March. Before the new law, witnesses were supposed to include their addresses but it wasn’t required in the law, so ballots were still counted if the address was missing.