Friday, April 09, 2010

Monona Votes - and Votes and Votes

I've seen some speculation about why our turnout in Monona was so high this past Tuesday - 36.53% - with some fairly detailed theories usually relating to Maywood School or the school budget in general. 
One problem with this theorizing; turnout was not high this year. Between 2009 and 2010, the spring election turnout in Monona actually dropped from 39.96% to 36.53%. Moreover, that percentage drop actually understates the decline. The voter rolls get purged every four years of people who haven't voted in the last four years. The purge, which happened after the 2009 election and before the election this year, reduced the number of registered voters in Monona by 570 (from 6259 to 5689). Votes cast dropped from 2501 to 2078.

The underlying reality remains unchanged: Monona really like to vote. Give us a contested race and we beat the pants off other communities, but there was nothing special about this year.

Year   Turnout
2010   34.63%
2009   39.96%
2008   36.53%

You want turnout? Try the 2006 spring election when we had the MG school referendum on the ballot. Turnout was an estimated 54%.


Some folks also love to explain why an election turned out the way it did. In the absence of exit polling, such speculation is great sport as it requires no facts and a fertile, not to say febrile, imagination. My favorite explanations are those that attempt to divine why Chad Speight lost in 2009. People say  "it was because of sidewalks" or it was because of "his ties to Doug Wood" or his Ivy League ties and they say it with such certitude. Chad lost by one vote, a margin that simply requires no explanation. You might as well roll a pair of dice fifty times and then try to "explain" the results.

This season the question is to explain why Kathy Thomas lost (or why Scott Munson won). She lost by 36 votes and was only 114 votes out of first place, not a random outcome, but not a margin that supports any clear-cut explanations. Thomas had experienced a number of close calls through the years as well as some easy wins. To me, a more surprising outcome happened in 2007 when Jeff Wiswell Sr. lost to Dale Suslick (by 5 votes) after finishing first in 2003 and 2005.

A couple things suggest themselves. The people who vote in the spring in Monona are just very evenly divided. Munson got 1022 and Dennis Kugle got 1028 this year. Mike Veserat got 1256 and Speight got 1255 in 2009.

(The people who vote in Monona in the Fall are not divided - they vote about 65-75% for Democrats and liberal Democrats. The difference is that a lot fewer people vote in the Spring and fewer voters means more conservative voters. Years ago Monona was actually considered a swing area (I'm talking about the 1980's; Reagan even carried Monona at least once), but it has become more liberal over the years.)

The other thing I've observed over the years is that the candidates who campaign the hardest usually do better in elections than candidates who don't put in that much effort. That seems like an extremely obvious cause of election outcomes, but it gets overlooked, perhaps because it is boring.

Given a candidate with some minimum level of competence and acceptability, hard work will give them at least a fighting chance to win. I'm talking about hitting the streets, knocking on doors, getting key endorsements, making phone calls, etc. I guarantee that was the only reason I won in 1989 during my first tour on the council. I was young, new to the community (about 4 years), and totally unknown. Heck, I was so naive I even talked about being a Cardinals fan from lllinois (Southern Illinois, I still hasten to add)!

What does this mean for the 2010 election? We had five good candidates - all well above the level of mere competence. No clowns (and we really did have a clown run for city council at least once; that was his job). My impression is that Munson outworked everybody else in the race. Kathy hasn't done much if any campaigning in years, although she did have yard signs and literature out there this year.(I think she felt like people had made up their minds about her and would either vote for her or not. )

That seems like a reasonable assumption, but that's because when you're on the council or involved in local politics, you begin to think everyone knows who you are or what the council is up to. Wrong! Never overestimate how closely people follow local politics. At least part of the time, most people expect the city leaders to take care of stuff so they don't have to worry about it.

(Just as a for instance, I think the only time the poll workers have ever recognized me when I handed over my little piece of paper was when Marianne Lichtfeld was working the S-Z table and that wasn't necessarily a positive experience! I jest. I think M.A. and I may have finally buried the hatchet. The feud is over. Maybe.)


  1. Thank you for the turn-out numbers, but I can't help feel there was an extra effort by people who opposed closing Maywood.

    Manning wasn't very vocal against it, but many people who were vocal, expressed strong support for her (and against the other school board candidates). Manning got over 1600 votes which means about 80% of voters chose her. About 45% of voters didn't vote for 2 board members (it was about 5% who didn't vote in the Dane Co. Board, 15% for Judge, and about 20% who didn't use all votes for alderman).

    There are other reasons why people may have voted for her too, such as name recognition (and recognition from the yard signs), active campaigning (by her and the Maywood supporters), not to mention her experience on the board. But the non-votes really seem higher on this race, and compared to past years (if you have numbers or know where to look it's appreciated). No there isn't a poll to cite, but the results seem to follow the movement in Monona the last few months.

  2. Manning's oppostition to the closure of Maywood may have helped her get more votes, but it did not increase the overall turnout.

    Dane County election results can be found at:

    The county does not have the Monona percentage turnout numbers. I got those from the city clerk.

    It'll give you a headache trying to compare the numbers because there were six candidates for three seats in 2007 and three candidates for two seats this time.