November 7, 2008

Straight Party Voting - Down the Ticket

Marc Comtois

As I've mentioned, I've been looking at the election returns* with a specific interest in straight-party ticket voting. What follows is an analysis of how straight-party voting may have affected a few down-ticket contests.

The most extreme example I can offer is the race for 4th District Senator (North Providence, Providence) between incumbent Dominick Ruggerio (D) and Christine Spaziano (R). Ruggerio won the race handily by a margin of 7614 to 3317. Included in Ruggerio's total were 2982 straight-party (Democrat) votes (Spaziano received 533 GOP straight-party votes)--Spaziano would have nearly lost just based on the straight-party vote! 39% of Ruggerio's votes were via the straight party lever vs. almost 16% for Spaziano. She didn't stand a chance. Unfortunately, this just exemplifies the sort of hurdle that any Republican has to surmount to run in Providence.

On the other side, I took a look at Bob Watson's race in East Greenwich. Watson, the incumbent Republican, defeated Jean Ann Guliano 4052 to 3384. Watson benefited from 631 (15.6% of total) straight-party votes while Guliano garnered 621 (18.4% of total). A much smaller differential than the aforementioned Providence race and Watson's straight-party votes were onl slightly above the average GOP straight-ticket rate of 14%.

Next, I looked at a couple tight races involving incumbents, one from each party. Incumbent Republican State Representative Nicholas Gorham (Coventry, Foster, Glocester) lost to Scott Pollard (D) 3723-3605. Gorham benefited from 504 straight-ticket votes (14% of his total) while Pollard received 613 (16.5% of his total). Pollard beat Gorham by 118 votes and he received 109 more straight-party votes than Gorham. Take those away, and Gorham would have still lost, but by a razor-thin margin.

I also looked at the three-way race in Senate District 11 between Incumbent Democrat Charles Levesque (Bristol, Portsmouth), Republican Chris Ottiano and Independent John Vitkevich. The overall vote breakdown was:

Levesque - 5499
Ottiano - 5383
Vitkevich - 1547

Obviously, as an Independent, Vitkevich didn't benefit from a straight-party vote. Levesque benefited with 1333 votes (24.2% of his total) while Ottiano received 749 (13.9%). That's a straight-party vote differential of 584 and it's clear that Levesque owes his victory to the straight-party vote option.

Finally, based on a comment from my previous post, I checked out the affect that the straight-party option can have on such down-ticket positions as School Committee. Not all Rhode Island cities and towns designate these positions as partisan, but South Kingstown does. As a result, the four Democrats who ran started out with 1447 votes thanks to the straight-party option. The one Republican benefited with 668 votes and the Independents started from 0. Here's a breakdown of each candidate with the percentage of their total garnered by the straight-party option.

DEMOCRAT - Stephen Mueller - 7649 (21%)
INDEPENDENT - Elizabeth Morris - 7548 (0%)
DEMOCRAT - Richard Angeli, Jr. - 7081 (23%)
DEMOCRAT - Anthony Mega - 7036 (23%)
DEMOCRAT - Fredrick Frostic - 6402 (25%)
INDEPENDENT - Jonathan Pincince - 6327 (0%)
REPUBLICAN - Robert Petrucci - 5543 (12%)

There are many ways to look at this race with "ifs" and "buts". Taking all of the straight-party votes away won't accurately reflect what the totals would look like. Yet, if the straight-party vote option is the refuge of the uninformed or protest voter (aka college Obamaniacs at URI or many fed up Rhody Republicans), then let's assume that half of the straight-party voters were there for the Presidential race and had no clue about school committee. That would give the Democrats 809 votes and the Republican 334 (and the Independents still nada). The new tally would be:

INDEPENDENT - Elizabeth Morris - 7649
DEMOCRAT - Stephen Mueller - 6739
INDEPENDENT - Jonathan Pincince - 6327
DEMOCRAT - Richard Angeli, Jr. - 6272
DEMOCRAT - Anthony Mega - 6227
DEMOCRAT - Fredrick Frostic - 5593
REPUBLICAN - Robert Petrucci - 5209

That's a bit of a different School Committee, no? Of course, I'd also note that, in this just past election, the benefits of the straight-party option for the Republican were probably far outweighed by having to declare his party!

Anyway, the takeaway is that the straight-party option clearly benefits the Democrats in Rhode Island, particularly those running for down-ticket offices during a Presidential election year. Even in "Republican" enclaves like East Greenwich, the straight-party voters are roughly equivalent. None of this is a real surprise, now we just have the numbers to prove it.

But all is not lost. Based on another comment, I looked at the Town Council races in Coventry, which saw the GOP take 4 out 5 seats.

DISTRICT 1 - GOP won by 243 votes. DEM had 74 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 2 - GOP won by 80 votes. DEM had 209 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 3 - DEM won by 211 votes. DEM had 289 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 4 - GOP won by 125 votes. DEM had 220 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 5 - GOP won by 1885 votes. DEM had 287 straight-party vote advantage. This GOP Candidate ran UNOPPOSED!

So, its possible, but the GOP (and Independents) are still way behind the 8-ball with the edge the state Democrats have in mindless straight-party voting.

*NOTE: The original returns I looked at were obtained on 11/5/2008. I downloaded the data again on 11/13/2008 and updated the above post accordingly.

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Thanks for taking the time to do this Marc. Very interesting stuff.

Also note that you wouldn't have to take away nearly so many votes from the Democrats for it to have made a difference in the SK School Committee race. After the mail-in ballots were counted I ended up down by 75, so absent the straight party vote option, even if 1371 of those 1447 who voted straight Democrat had taken the time to vote for all the Democrats individually, I would have finished 5th and been elected. Not to mention that even those who took the time to vote for all the Democrats individually could still have voted for me with their 5th vote, as there were 5 open seats and only 4 Democrats on the ballot.

Anyway, I sound bitter; I'm not. I just want a more fair system. But that is just so unlikely to happen in the near future with the Democrats (or, probably, any one party) so strongly in control.

Posted by: Jon at November 7, 2008 2:12 PM

"mindless straight-party voting" Marc, I don't have the data to back up this claim but I believe that most of the straight-party voting is by the elderly. Straight-party levers are a thing of the past when the voter was either D or R. and party was more important than the individual candidate. The elderly are also the most reliable voters, generation-wise. While I agree that straight-party choice should be dropped, I also value the wisdom of the elderly vote.

Posted by: David at November 7, 2008 4:45 PM

Slice it any way you'd like and you'll find that the Republicans were trounced. I'm not a Democrat, I'd be happy to vote for Linc Chafee, for example, but the Republican Party wants to sponsor people like Laffey for state wide office, and fools like Cote in local elections.

In short, if you keep doing the same thing and expect a different result you are self deluded. There's no help unless you change the direction of the Republican party.


Posted by: OldTimeLefty at November 7, 2008 9:50 PM

the numbers you mentioned may not be correct?/ these are the posted results
from nov 5 projo , who's right? who's wrong

Dominick J. RUGGERIO (D) 7,755 70.0%
Christine Corene SPAZIANO (R) 3,317 30.0%

Posted by: citizen at November 8, 2008 4:00 AM

David-gee, that's just what I was saying...

OTL - whatever

Citizen - BOE has two different totals
4323-1508 on the "Providence" page but 7755-3317 on the race specific page. Both pages say results were updated Nov. 6. (I believe these were mail-in/provisional ballots that have been added). First, my numbers game directly from the BOE downloadable data, not the web site. Second, the raw numbers changed, but the relative %s are about the same.

Posted by: Marc at November 8, 2008 3:02 PM

The difference in the data regarding the Senate District 4 race is likely due to the fact that Senator Ruggerio represents a slice of North Providence as well as a slice of Providence. Marc's initial analysis apparently focused exclusively on the state Board of Elections' data for Providence while "Citizen" looked at BOE's more inclusive Senate District 4 data.

Posted by: Chris Barnett at November 10, 2008 8:23 PM
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