Newspaper editorials and articles have criticized voters of Douglas County and 29 other counties for predjudice in the election of Hispanic Steve Gonzales for supreme court judge in the last primary election. Our voters favored Bruce O. Danielson over Gonzales by a vote of 69 percent to 31 percent. Danielson was clearly less qualified as reported in an editorial in the Wenatchee World and online at votingforjudges.com. In my opinion lack of information, party preferences and skipped ballots for judge position played bigger roles.
Criticisms of prejudice appeared in several media. “It was prejudice, pure and simple,” concluded the Slog.TheStranger, a Seattle newspaper/blog. “The answer appears to be” that “we vote against a candidate simply because of their Hispanic surname,” said Tracy Warner in the Wenatchee World. Political Science professor Matt Barrato at the University of Washington told the Tacoma’s News Tribune, “When voters find themselves with very limited information, names and race absolutely factor in.”
Ballot information on judges was limited to names, even though primary races for judges with two candidates determine the winner. No pamphlet of qualifications was provided by the state. Candidate websites had virtually no traffic. Danielson’s website got so few hits the top ranked website statistical rating service, Alexa, reported no usage statistics. Gonzalez’s website had more, but largely because a traveler by the same name has 1,000-plus followers who searched for the traveler’s crude joke about breakfast and found the justice’s site instead. James W. Carlson wrote in the Wenatchee World’s safety valve recently that websites on the many races were “confusing” and called for an insert in the newspaper during primary elections.
Information on the ballot is extremely important. In fifteen partisan races listed before the court races, primary voters in our county favored a candidate who “prefers Republican” versus a candidate who “prefers Democratic.” In other counties a candidate who prefers Democratic is favored. Nobody shamed voters for those party preferences.
When court voters read the names on the ballot they saw Danielson and Gonzalez. Those searching for “prefers Republican” couldn’t find it, but which name looks Republican? Danielson. In my opinion people know Hispanics prefer the Democratic party, which Pew Research confirms they prefer by a two-to-one margin. It’s a logical choice for people who prefer Republican to vote for the name that is more likely to be Republican in a two party race. Voters had only information on name and race and they used it as Barroto’s research confirms they do.
Barroto implies race was a factor because Danielson won more than McKenna statewide. Without predjudice, “Danielson’s vote should have tracked McKenna’s.” Danielson’s vote tracked Republican preferences, not McKenna’s. Voters split 65 percent of Republican votes among McKenna and three other Republicans. The auditor race and Attorney General races with unknown candidates resulted in Republican candidates winning 65 percent of the votes. That’s close to Danielson’s 69 percent.
The extra four percent is most likely a result of voters skipping votes. Less people voted for auditor than governor and less people voted for judge than auditor. Carlson said, “I have to admit that a few times, rather than vote for an unknown, I have left spaces for some candidates unmarked.” I did on other judge positions.
More voters skipped a vote for Gonzales than they did for Danielson. The Republican oriented auditor votes dropped 10-12 percent from governor totals, and votes for Danielson dropped the same amount from auditor votes. He was more likely Republican than Gonzalez. The Democratic oriented auditor votes dropped the same amount as the Republican votes, but Gonzales had a whopping 27 percent drop. Since Gonzales was an unknown, more voters probably skipped voting for him because they had no information on his qualifications. In the four counties that provided qualification information, Gonzales won. According to my calculations, if the number of Douglas County voters for Gonzalez dropped the same amount as for Danielson, Danielson would have tracked Republican preferences at 65 percent. In my opinion inferred, logical party preference implied by race and a lack of information about qualifications were more important than pure and simple racial prejudice.
Since we elect judges in primary elections with two candidates we should at least provide voters’ pamphlets with qualifications on those races.