2.2 Million Voters Face No-Choice Election

44 of 115 Legislative Races Uncontested for November General Election

Posted: July 8, 2004
Updated: July 22, 2004

Madison - Nearly 2.2 million Wisconsin voters will have no choice in who represents them in the state Assembly or Senate because only one candidate so far is seeking a place on the November ballot in 44 of 115 legislative races, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said today. (Uncontested races listed below.)

WDC found that only one candidate is on the November ballot in 38 of 99 Assembly seats and only one candidate is on the ballot in six of 16 Senate races. In an additional seven races - five for the Assembly and two for the Senate - a lone major party candidate faces only a third-party challenger.

In the September primary, voters may have no choice in 34 legislative races because there is only one candidate on the ballot.

The high number of uncontested races, which follows a 15-year trend, is due in part to the large campaign war chests built up by incumbents to scare off challengers going into the election year. At the beginning of 2004, legislators had a collective cash balance of $3.16 million in their campaign accounts - about 6 percent more than incumbents had going into the comparable 2000 election year.

In addition, the state’s antiquated campaign finance laws make it easy for wealthy special interests to slather incumbents and candidates in targeted open seat races with large campaign contributions in the homestretch of the race.

Other findings in WDC’s review of legislative contests show:

  • Thirty-three incumbents are unopposed for reelection, including ten freshmen elected just two years ago. Until recent years, freshmen legislators frequently drew challengers because they were viewed as more vulnerable than veteran legislators.
  • There are 20 open seats, which are races where the incumbent decided not to run, including the 63rd Assembly District in Racine where only Republican Robin Vos is registered to run. Open seats traditionally attract multiple candidates from both parties because they are seen as easier to win than challenging an incumbent.
  • Residents of nine Assembly Districts will not be able to choose who represents them in the Legislature because only one candidate is on the ballot so far for both the Assembly and Senate seats that represent them.

"In 1970, there were no uncontested state legislative races in Wisconsin. As recently as the mid-1980s, only about one in seven races was uncontested. Now it’s 40 percent," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. "We have an epidemic of uncompetitive elections on our hands and more than 2 million voters have no say about who represents them in the Legislature."

McCabe said the problem has many causes but emphasized two in particular - the overwhelming financial edge enjoyed by current office holders and partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts that makes them safe for incumbents.

"An awful lot of people who have much to offer to public service have been priced out of the political marketplace. Incumbents amass enormous campaign war chests, and it’s next to impossible for challengers to compete. Many of them give up before they start," McCabe said. "On top of the fundraising advantage, incumbents have redrawn legislative districts in a way that gives them a big leg up. Long before voters get to choose their representatives, the representatives have chosen their voters."

McCabe also pointed to the power of television, both as the driving force behind the campaign arms race and as a primary force shaping social and political values and behavior.

"TV has changed everything in politics. It has changed the way politicians communicate with voters. It has changed the way voters relate to candidates. TV has made people think of themselves less as citizens who are participants in the democratic process and more as passive spectators and as consumers who are being sold a product," he said.

Uncontested Legislative Races on the November Ballot
Final Tally

Legislative
Office
Candidate (Party)
A02 Frank Lasee (R)
A06* John Ainsworth or JP Drengler (R)
A07 Peggy Krusick (D)
A08 Pedro Colon (D)
A09 Josh Zepnick (D)
A11* Jason Fields, Jim Malloy or Leonard Goudy (D)
A14 Leah Vukmir (R)
A15 Tony Staskunas (D)
A16 Leon Young (D)
A17 Barbara L. Toles (D)
A18* Tamara Grigsby, Walt Love or James Zaffiro (D)
A19 Jon Richards (D)
A21 Mark Honadel (R)
A23 Curtis C. Gielow (R)
A24 Suzanne Jeskewitz (R)
A25* Anne-Marie Woznicki or Bob Ziegelbauer (D)
A26 Terry Van Akkeren (D)
A27 Steve Kestell (R)
A55 Dean Kaufert (R)
A56 Terri McCormick (R)
A57 Steve Wieckert (R)
A59 Daniel R LeMahieu (R)
A60 Mark Gottlieb (R)
A63 Robin Vos (R)
A64 Jim Kreuser (D)
A65 John Steinbrink (D)
A69* Diane Murphy or Scott Suder (R)
A71* Jesse Higgins or Louis Molepske, Jr. (D)
A76 Terese Berceau (D)
A77 Spencer Black (D)
A81 David Travis (D)
A82 Jeff Stone (R)
A83 Scott Gunderson (R)
A84 Mark Gundrum (R)
A95 Jennifer Shilling (D)
A97 Ann Nischke (R)
A98 Scott R. Jensen (R)
A99* Deb Baker, Don Pridemore or Michael Lehman (R)
S04* Johnnie Morris, Lena Taylor or James White (D)
S06 G. Spencer Coggs (D)
S14* Roger Cross, Luther Olsen or John Spillner, Sr. (R)
S18 Carol Roessler (R)
S20* Glenn Grothman or Mary Panzer (R)
S28 Mary Lazich (R)
* Winner of the Sept. 14 primary faces no opposition on the November ballot