Monday, March 28, 2011
Breaking the 850,000 vote level in a Supreme Court Election?
On the late evening of April 5, one interesting thing to watch for will be the volume of voter turn-out for the election compared to earlier contested Supreme Court races. Kevin Kennedy of the Election Division of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is quoted today as predicting a turn-out of 20% for the April 5 election. This is pretty much a normal level of turn-out for a spring election where the only state-wide ballot race is for the Supreme Court.
Kennedy was talking in terms of "eligible voters" which includes everyone of voting age, regardless of whether registered or not. There were, as of December 28, 2010, 3,493,306 registered voters in Wisconsin. The 2007 race between Judge Annette Ziegler and Madison attorney Linda Clifford had a vote total of 832,657. The 2008 race between Judge Mike Gabelman and incumbent Justice Louis Butler drew 830,450 votes. The 2009 race between Chief Justice Abrahamson and Randy Koschnick had 793,864 voters. The Ziegler/Clifford race drew almost 25% of the registered voters to the polls.
The spring primary for Supreme Court on February 15 only drew 420,110 voters, or just 12 percent of the registered voters in the state. Justice David Prosser got over 126,000 more votes than Joanne Kloppenburg in the primary, a seemingly impossible margin to overcome on April 5. But if you add up all the primary votes of Justice Prosser's three primary opponents, Prosser only out-polled the other candidates by about 42,000 votes. Let's assume everyone comes back to the polls on April 5 that voted in the primary, and the votes Justice Prosser has shed from his supporters since the February 15 primary is equal to the votes he picks up from Winnig and Stephens supporters. (The primary was only four days after the Governor announced his plans in the Budget Repair Bill to kill public unions.) 42,000 votes is still a huge margin to overome in a low turnout election. If you assume that the vote total will equal the last three elections, that will be about 400,000 more voters for the general election. Kloppenburg will have to have those additional voters split her way by a margin of 55% to 45% in order to overcome the primary deficit. That is closing in on landslide territory, which seems rather unlikely when viewed without regard to voter demographics.
Another way to look at the race is the way that was explored this morning in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Craig Gilbert. There are 98,000 teachers in Wisconsin, and according to the latest employment figures of the DWD, 290,000 state and local government workers in addition to teachers. That's 388,000 public employees who may well be inclined to send a message to the GOP via the Supreme Court race. Assume that government workers are more politically informed and active by a small factor of 5% than privately employed workers, and that therefore they would generally turn out in higher numbers for elections. If we take 26% turnout of the public employees (5% more than the 25% total turnout in Ziegler-Clifford, see above), that's over 100,000 public employee votes. Even if half of them voted in the primary, that is still 50,000 new public employee votes in the general election. If they split 2 to 1 for Kloppenburg, she is only 9,000 votes behind where she needs to be to overtake the primary margin of Justice Prosser. That means the additional 350,000 new non-public employee voters in the General Election (above the number of primary voters) would then only have to split Kloppenburg's way by a little over 51% to 49% to erase the primary deficit.
A final way to look at it is to assume that the voter turnout will be much higher than previous elections because of all the passion over the Budget Repair Bill. Even if the teachers and government workers will only be 100,000 to 120,000 of the voters in a typical Supreme Court election, they may turn out in much higher numbers this year, and bring with them their soul-mates, other loved ones and neighbors. Dane County has 322,000 registered voters. Only 66,000 voted in the Spring primary and went 2 to 1 for candidates whose names were not "Prosser." Historically the largest Dane County turnout recently for Supreme Court was when Chief Justice Abrahamson won re-election in 2009, when 98,000 went to the polls and favored her by an almost 3 to 1 margin. With all the active local participation in the demonstrations here in Madison, UW students being energized by projected tuition increases and voter ID bills by the GOP, and with everyone and their brother having public servants as close friends, It would not be crazy to think that Dane County could get 50% of its voters to the polls on April 5. (88% of Dane County voters voted in the presidential election of 2008.) Another 60,000 voters in Dane County, while they could be countered by substantial increases of voters in the GOP strongholds of Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee Counties, would still likely be a large enough marginal turnout to pull off a Kloppenburg victory. If so, Justice Prosser would become another victim of the Governor demonstrating to the nation that his uncompromising style makes him right for America.