Last fall’s Republican wave in Wisconsin featured a surge in straight-party voting. In some places, close to half the electorate used the “straight-ticket” option on the ballot. And in most counties that keep track of it, those straight-ticket voters were disproportionately Republican.
Yet it’s the GOP that is now poised to abolish straight-ticket voting, a longstanding feature of Wisconsin elections that lets voters choose a party’s entire slate of candidates instead of picking individual contestants race by race. What’s the case for ending straight-ticket voting? Which party would benefit? How many people actually vote this way?
None of these questions has gotten much discussion, because the elimination of straight-ticket voting is part of a broader GOP election bill (headed to the Assembly floor next week) that features a far more hotly debated item: requiring photo ID at the polls.
But if straight-ticket voting is a footnote in the fight over voting rules in Wisconsin, it’s a pretty intriguing one. 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. Even as more states have abolished it in recent years, huge numbers of people use the straight-ticket option where it’s available, in keeping with the contemporary rise in partisan polarization and decline in ticket-splitting.
No statewide numbers exist on straight-ticket voting in Wisconsin, since many counties don’t record or report the figures. But state election officials collected data on the 2010 election from 19 counties, and I’ve gathered numbers from several others. It’s only a sample, but at few points can be made.