New law changes ballot

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staff, Gazette
Saturday, September 15, 2012

— For decades, Wisconsin voters have had the option of voting for all the candidates of one party with one swipe of their pen. Wisconsin’s new voting law eliminated that option.

So all voters on Nov. 6 will have to vote on each race separately.

Some say this was another move by a Republican-controlled Legislature to try to gain at the polls.

“The Republican legislators and pollsters and people who do this stuff believe it will hurt Democratic voting more than Republican voting,” said Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville.

“It was their belief that their voters are more sophisticated and interested, that they will stay there and vote in all the races, while college kids and poor people will vote for (President Barack) Obama and leave. That’s why it’s in there,” Cullen said.

Cullen called that thinking self-righteous, and he hopes it’s not true.

“I don’t think it should make any difference, but everything in that bill was poll-tested, and they believe from their data and their research that it will affect voting to their advantage. Nothing was in that bill by mistake,” Cullen said.

Cullen said he knows this because he has heard it from Republicans at the Capitol.

Republicans say they were just trying to encourage more thoughtful voting.

“I think everyone knows what the parties stand for, but you really should vote for individuals. … So this gives them the opportunity to do some research and evaluate the candidates,” said Rep Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, who sponsored the amendment to eliminate straight-ticket voting.

Told of Cullen’s analysis, Tauchen said, “I respectfully disagree.”

Nothing is stopping voters from voting exclusively for one party, “but at least they’ll be thinking about each vote individually,” Tauchen said.

Tauchen also argues that straight-party voting favors the two major parties, and the change gives independent candidates a better shot at winning.

Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, who was Senate majority leader when the bill was passed, said he and some other Republicans questioned the idea at first.

“It did cause some consternation among some legislators like myself, that have very Republican districts,” where a lot of Republicans use the straight-party option, Fitzgerald said.

But in the end Fitzgerald was persuaded the change would simplify voting, he said.

A survey of 20 counties by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Craig Gilbert showed straight-ticket voting is common.

Gilbert found between 21 percent and 52 percent of voters in those counties voted straight ticket in 2010. In Rock County it was 40 percent; in Walworth County, 45 percent.

Republicans dominated in 2010, and most of the straight-ticket voters that year were Republicans. About 71 percent of straight-party voters in Walworth County went Republican. Rock was one of the few counties in which straight-party voters leaned Democratic, by 57 percent.

Gilbert quoted a political scientist who said the straight-ticket option tends to benefit a state’s dominant political party.

“Voters make their decisions with top-of-the-ticket races in mind,” Gilbert wrote. “Without the straight-ticket option, some voters might normally skip lower-profile races they haven’t paid attention to.”

Wisconsin was one of 16 states 2011 that allowed straight-ticket voting.

The change came in the same law that required voters to present a photo ID at the polls, but that provision is being challenged in the courts, and for the moment, the requirement is not in force.

Other changes remain in effect. They include one that cuts off in-person absentee voting four days before the election, and one that requires voters to be Wisconsin residents for 28 days instead of the previous 10.

Last updated: 4:38 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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