A Look at the End of Straight Ticket Voting

MacIver News Service | November 8, 2012

[Madison, Wisc…] There was little debate after Wisconsin eliminated straight ticket party voting this year as part of the Voter ID law, because no one could figure out which party would benefit from the change. When a Dane County Judge struck down the Voter ID component of the law, the elimination of straight ticket party voting remained.

After examining preliminary results from Tuesday’s general election, it would seem Republicans benefited most from the new law. Although Wisconsin went to Democrats in statewide races for president and the U.S. Senate, Republicans emerged from the election with majorities in the state Senate and Assembly.

Every voter in Wisconsin had the opportunity to vote for president, the US Senate, the US House and the state Assembly. However, 22 of the Assembly races had unopposed candidates and were not included in media reports. After examining the incomplete data, almost one million people who voted for president choose not to vote in Assembly races.

In 2008, 2,983,417 people voted for president and 2,693,137 people voted in Assembly races–a difference of 290,280. Barack Obama carried the state and Democrats gained control of both houses of the legislature.

This time around, 3,056,802 people voted for president and 2,182,445 people voted in Assembly races, for a difference of 874,357. Even with the preliminary results not including 22 Assembly races, the decrease in votes cast for both races is notable. It is especially relevant given that Barack Obama again carried Wisconsin while Republicans regained control of the state Senate and kept their majority in the Assembly.

Only about one million people voted for Democrats in Assembly races statewide. Conversely, 1.5 million voted for Tammy Baldwin and 1.6 million cast their ballot for President Obama.

Republicans captured 1,150,022 votes in Assembly races, compared with 1.36 million votes for Tommy Thompson and 1.4 million for Mitt Romney.

“There’s the policy question of whether people should be discouraged from casting an easy party-line vote or whether they should be afforded the convenience of doing so. There’s the political question of whether the practice helps Democrats or Republicans. And there’s the broader question of what the trends in straight-ticket voting say about our political culture,” Craig Gilbert wrote in his Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blog in May.

“I’m not so sure about killing straight party ticket. Are they assuming that Democrats are much, much dumber than Republicans and won’t be able to navigate a ballot without a straight-party ticket?” Jud Lounsbury wrote on the progressive blog, Uppity Wisconsin. “It seems like straight party ticket voting benefits whichever political party has the wind at their back. In 2008 that was the Dems, but in 2010 it was definitely the Republicans. There were a lot of popular down-ticket candidates from both parties that probably would have survived those years if straight-party voting did not exist.”

If Tuesday’s election results are any indication, it seems that many voters simply will not take the time to vote for individual candidates based solely on party affiliation.