Monday, August 13, 2012

Election overload

By Bill Kraus

It is my fervent hope that 2012 will go down in the record books as the year of the most elections, that we will never again approach this year’s six elections in 10 months.

It all started out so innocently. A February primary to chose the two finalists for the Supreme Court election in April eliminated one contender. The incumbent, predictably, won by a large margin over the successful challenger and was expected to do so again in the finals in April.

Then all hell broke loose.

Recalls everywhere and anywhere. A Supreme Court race that was more about who liked the governor more and who liked him not at all instead of about the two candidates who were on the ballot and their virtues if any.

Recall frenzy took over and election fatigue began to set in as we had our first-ever general elections in May and June.

The latter produced the only real surprise of the first four elections when the voters found a way to tell us that they disliked the idea of no-fault recalls more than they liked or disliked the candidates at the top of the tickets.

Once this was out of the way the prelims for the regularly scheduled fall elections finally got to center stage.

These were extraordinary in many, many ways, and propelled what is usually a battle for the yellow dog votes in both parties suddenly became much more than that and much more deserving of a higher-than-usual turnout despite the limp history of primary voting turnouts and the barriers to anything higher than normal.

The schedule calls for a mid-August primary election. This is mandated to give voters who are in the military and serving overseas a chance to cast absentee ballots, which is a compelling incentive for bringing our troops back from overseas.

August used to be the lightly attended dog days of the campaign season. Nobody was home, it’s hot, and not so incidentally August voting makes the always elusive student voters hard to find and mobilize.

The big race is the Republican primary to pick an opponent for Tammy Baldwin’s in the bag candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Herb Kohl, but there’s a lot going on in the districts and the counties as well.

Redistricting has thrown incumbents together in several cases. Redistricting also inevitably means many more incumbents have to introduce themselves to voters in new, to them, territories.

This plus a decisive primary race in the 2nd congressional district means that any of the four Republicans in the U.S. Senate primary don’t have to worry about crossover voters in that district but can’t count on independent-Democratic votes there either.

This is also true in state legislative districts that have been seriously rearranged. This is very important at this level given the gerrymandering factor which has made the primary the decisive election in more and more districts.

Odd developments abound. A long time sure Republican voter with whom I am acquainted will vote the Democratic ticket, because he is more interested in a Dem he likes winning a race for District Attorney than he cares about who wins the primary for the U.S. Senate

A very large majority of the state and congressional legislative elections will be decided in an August election, and voters have caught on to this. Those who have are more likely to go to the trouble to vote than those who haven’t.

Voter fatigue is an unpredictable but real factor that could depress votes despite the importance of the primaries in this overloaded and increasingly manipulated mapmaking year.

I think enough wild cards are in play to make predicting outcomes too dicey for me.

The good news is that after Tuesday the year of elections will be at five down, one to go.

The best news would be that we will never have another year like 2012.

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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

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