Michigan Ballot Options Could Confuse

This story was written by Emily Barton, Michigan Daily
Now that the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are over, the state of Michigan is next in line.

And although most top contenders for the Democratic nomination won't appear on the ballot, that doesn't mean Democratic voters can't support their favorite candidates on Tuesday.

The Democratic and Republican National Committees have stripped Michigan of half its Republican delegates and all of its Democratic delegates because the committees don't allow any state other than Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to schedule their primary elections before Feb. 5.

As a result, the number of Democrats on the ballot will be sparse and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) will be the only leading candidate on it. Soon after the announcement that Michigan would lose its delegates, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) removed their names from the state's ballot, citing commitments they had made to the national party.

But even if voters write in the names of their favorite candidates not on the ballot, their votes won't count. Instead, they'll have to cast an uncommitted vote.

If enough people vote uncommitted, some delegates who haven't pledged their support to any candidate will be sent to the Democratic National Convention this summer.

Republicans also have an uncommitted vote option on their ballots, but all Republican candidates are appearing on the ballot.

But voting uncommitted could also impact how voters in states with later primaries view the race.

If a large portion of people vote uncommitted, it will show strong support for those candidates not listed on the ballot, Political Science Prof. Ken Kollman said.

"That would clearly be a defeat for Clinton and a major setback for her," Kollman said.

But that all depends on voter turnout.

"My guess is a lot will stay home because their candidate is not on the ballot," he said.

LSA senior Sam Harper, chair of the University's College Democrats, said he thinks most people won't understand how voting uncommitted works.

Harper said voters who don't like Clinton might end up writing in other candidates' names or voting for a Republican candidate rather than voting uncommitted. He thinks many will figure that an uncommitted ballot is the same thing as leaving a ballot blank.

"It's very misleading and confusing," he said.

Harper said he is also afraid many students voting in Ann Arbor might not know about the option to vote uncommitted.

LSA sophomore Tom Duvall, chair of Students for Obama, agreed.

"Most people just have no idea," he said.

A Facebook group called "Vote 'UNCOMMITTED' on the January 15th Michigan Primary" has only 239 members from across the state.

Prof. Mike Traugott, who studies mass media and its impact on politics, said it's too early to tell if the uncommitted option will have strong support. But he said there could be a high percentage if candidates not listed on the ballot ask people to vote uncommitted and if there is enough encouragement from their supporters.

But Traugott wasn't optimistic.

"I don't think turnout is going to be high on the Democrats' side because there's no contest," he said.
© 2008 Michigan Daily via U-WIRE
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