Popular straight-party voting abolished
Records show that 54 percent of city of Milwaukee voters—or 149,546 of them—cast straight-party ballots in the 2008 presidential election and that 53 percent of them voted that way in 2010.
In both elections, city of Milwaukee voters cast six straight-party Democratic ballots for every one cast for Republicans.
Straight-party voting has also been popular elsewhere: In Jefferson County, 46 percent of 2010 voters cast straight-party ballots in 2010. In La Crosse County, almost 44 percent of all votes cast in 2010 were straight-party ballots. In Rock County, straight-party ballots were 39 percent of votes cast in 2010 and 2008.
But straight-party ballots—used by voters wanting to vote for all candidates of one party, unless they make exceptions for individual offices—are no longer allowed in Wisconsin.
In a change that was overshadowed by the controversy over whether voters should have to show a photo ID to cast a ballot, Republican state officials banned straight-ticket voting.
Republican Rep. Robin Vos, who will be the next speaker of the Assembly if his party keeps control of that house, bluntly explained that change in a recent wispolitics.com forum: Straight-ticket voting helped Democratic candidates more than Republicans.
“Straight-party voting gives about a 1 percent to 2 percent advantage to Democrats, when you look at statewide races,” Vos said at the wispolitics.com luncheon with Democratic Assembly Leader Peter Barca.
Responding, State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said, “Vos’ claim is in error—straight-party voting actually helped Republicans slightly more.” Tate also said Vos’ statement “shows he is motivated not by doing what is good for people of Wisconsin. (Vos) is merely out for the good of his political party.” Not all counties track straight-party votes. Dane County does not do so, for example.
But here were the totals for five units of government surveyed last week:
--City of Milwaukee: 100,487 straight-party ballots in 2010, out of 187,811 total votes. Of those straight-party votes, 86,297 were cast for Democrats and 14,190 for Republicans. In the 2008 presidential election, there were 149,546 straight-party votes, out of 275,042 votes; 128,171 of those votes were cast for Democrats and 21,375 for Republicans.
Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, said he was not surprised that more than 53 percent of votes in the last two major elections were straight-party ballots.
“This is a city that tends to be pretty politically polarized,” Albrecht said.
And, when both parties conduct get-out-the-vote drives, Albrecht added, “It’s easier to instruct the voter: Simply pick your political party.”
--Jefferson County: About 46 percent of all voters in the November 2010 election cast straight-party ballots, with 9,641 Republicans and 5,173 Democrats. In the November 2008 presidential election, 41 percent of all voters cast those ballots, including 10,033 Republicans and 7,936 Democrats.
--La Crosse County: 43.9 percent of all voters in the November 2010 election cast straight-party ballots, with 9,476 Republicans and 9,272 Democrats. In November 2008 presidential election, 37 percent of all voters cast straight-party ballots, with 13,964 Democrats and 9,658 Republicans.
--Rock County: 39.8 percent of all November 2010 voters cast straight-party ballots, with 12,063 of them for Democrats and 8,986 for Republicans. In November 2008 presidential election, 39 percent of voters cast those ballots, with 20,390 for Democrats and 10,696 for Republicans.
--Sheboygan County: 33 percent of all November 2010 voters cast straight-party ballot, including 10,041 for Republicans and 5,683 for Democrats. In the 2008 presidential election, 38.5 percent of voters cast those ballots, with 12,708 Democrats and 11,700 Republicans.
Kevin Kennedy, director of the Government Accountability Board and the state’s top election administrator, said he is “not sure” whether voters know that straight-party voting was abolished.
It may be a “very important” change, Kennedy added in a WisconsinEye interview.
“Party ID is—politicians will tell you—a shorthand way of identifying where people stand,” Kennedy explained. “If people line up with one party, it gives a certain comfort level that they may reflect views you oppose or you support.”
Wisconsin has a “tradition” of separating party affiliation from the act of voting, he added.
Other states require voters to list a party affiliation, but Wisconsin only requires someone voting in a primary to identify with a party—and no record is kept of that choice.
Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.