Last year in Wisconsin, two fire department referendums, that would have increased spending for local fire departments, illustrated how timing and population size can have an effect on referendums pertaining to public safety.
In August 2018, voters in Greenville, Wisconsin voted for a measure providing $6.5 million in funding for a new fire station to replace the existing 50-year old building. A few months later, in Greenfield, Wisconsin, voters rejected a measure to provide $975,000 in additional funding for the city’s fire and police departments.
The Greenville referendum was passed during the August primary while the referendum in Greenfield appeared on the November general election ballot. Primary elections, of course, have lower voter turnout than general elections. Furthermore, those who vote in primary elections tend to be more engaged voters who are more passionate about issues on the ballot. This could be an explanation for the passage of the fire station referendum in Greenville.
The Greenfield referendum failed during the fall general election, when turnout was far higher. Unlike the Greenville primary, where the voter base was smaller and more passionate about issues on the ballot, the Greenfield referendum may have failed due simply to the larger voter turnout. Greenfield is also a much larger city than Greenville, which may have had an effect on the outcome of the referendum.
The results of these two fire department referendums illustrate how, if you want something to pass, consider putting it on the primary ballot.