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Straight-ticket voting or straight-party voting is the practice of voting for every candidate that a political party has on a general election ballot. In general, straight-ticket voting was a very common occurrence up until around the 1960s and 1970s. Since that time, straight-ticket voting has declined in the United States among the general voting population; however, strong partisans (that is, strong party identifiers) have remained straight-ticket voters.
In the early days of the parties, it was nearly impossible not to vote on a straight-party line vote. Voters would receive a colored ballot with that party's nominees on it. A split-ticket vote would require two different colored ballots, which confused the voter. Often, the voter would choose a specific party, and vote for everyone from that party. Some states have had an option (sometimes known as a master lever) to select "vote straight-ticket Democrat" and "vote straight-ticket Republican" that voters can check instead of voting for each race; states that do so include Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah. West Virginia, Michigan, and Iowa abolished this practice in 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively, though Michigan's repeal was blocked by a federal judge due to discrimination issues in 2016 but was reinstated by the 6th Circuit Court and Supreme Court in 2018. Texas's straight-ticket repeal will be effective in 2020.
Straight-ticket voting in individual states
The straight-ticket voting option differs slightly from state to state.
General-election ballots in Michigan have three sections:
- The partisan section, which includes candidates for partisan offices;
- The non-partisan section, which includes candidates for judgeships, most municipal offices, and school boards; and
- The proposals section, which includes state and local ballot issues.
Voters in Michigan had long been able to vote a straight ticket or a split ticket (voting for individual candidates in individual offices).
Straight-ticket voting only involved the partisan section of the ballot, meaning that if an individual wished to vote in a non-partisan race or for or against a proposal, they had to cast those votes individually. One area in which this issue received attention was in races for the Michigan Supreme Court. All parties on the ballot can nominate candidates for Justice of the Supreme Court at their party conventions (2–3 months before the election for primary-eligible parties, or before the August primary for alternative parties which nominate only at conventions or county caucuses). However, the races appear on the ballot in the nonpartisan section, meaning that a straight-ticket vote for either of these parties would not include a vote for that party's candidates for Supreme Court.
The Michigan Legislature passed and Governor Rick Snyder signed SB 13 on January 5, 2015, which repeals and abolishes straight-ticket voting in the state. This follows failed attempts to abolish it in 1964 and 2001-2002 after voter referenda repealing abolition. With a $5 million appropriation in SB 13, however, a voter referendum is no longer possible due to a constitutional prohibition on referenda on bills appropriating moneys by the Legislature.
North Carolina had an option for voting "straight party" (using the term from an NC ballot) that did not include a vote for the President and Vice President of the United States, through the 2012 elections. A voter ID law enacted in 2013 abolished all straight-ticket voting in the state, and went into effect in 2014. The bill eliminating it was HB 589.
Under the former system, North Carolina made separate selections for the President/Vice President and the straight-party option. This idiosyncrasy on the North Carolina ballot was described by some as "a ballot flaw," potentially resulting in voters failing to cast a vote for President and Vice President when doing so was their intent. It was introduced in the 1960s to shore up Democrats at the state level as Republicans were gaining strength at the national level. In the 2000 presidential election, there was a 3.15% "undervote" (i.e. (total voter turnout - total votes for President and Vice President) / total voter turnout); in the 2004 presidential election, there was a 2.57% undervote. This means that in raw numbers, more than 92,000 North Carolina voters in the 2000 election turned out to vote but did not vote for president; similarly, in 2004, more than 75,000 North Carolina voters turned out to vote but not vote for president.
In Texas, a vote for a straight-party ticket casts votes for all party candidates in all races where the party is fielding a candidate and the voter is eligible to cast a vote, from the President/Vice President (or Governor) to the county constable or justice of the peace. On June 1, 2017, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 25, which eliminates the straight-ticket voting option in Texas for all races beginning in 2020.
A voter, however, may vote a straight-party ticket and subsequently cast an individual vote in a particular race. This may happen in cases where
- the voter's party did not field a candidate in a specific race, and the voter wants to cast a vote in that race for one of the candidates from another party, and/or
- the voter does not wish to support the party's candidate in a specific race, but wishes to vote for another candidate in that race. (However, Texas does not have a "none of the above" option; in a case where a voter wishes not to vote for any candidate in a race where his/her party is fielding one, the voter must cast a vote in each individual race separately and cannot choose the straight-party option.) An individual vote will override the straight-party vote, but only in those specific races where an individual vote is cast.
Straight-party voting is only available in the general election for partisan elections. It is not available for:
- party primary elections
- non-partisan races (such as City Council or School Board elections); even if a slate of candidates is endorsed by a particular group the slate cannot be elected on a single ticket, each candidate must be selected individually.
- ballot issues (such as an amendment to the Texas Constitution or a measure to approve bonds and assess taxes for their repayment), even if a political party officially endorses or opposes such an amendment.
In those cases where a partisan election is combined with a non-partisan election and/or ballot issues, the voter can vote straight-party in the partisan portion, but then must vote individually in the other portion(s).
In West Virginia, voting "straight party" included a vote for all candidates of the party voters selected, including the President and Vice President of the United States. Non-partisan candidates had to be voted separately. In 2015, however, straight-ticket voting was eliminated as an option on ballots through an Act of the State Legislature signed by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, SB 249.
The Seneca Nation of Indians, which operates under a republican form of government on reservations within the bounds of the state of New York, offers a straight-ticket voting option. To qualify, a political party must field candidates in each seat up for election in a given year. In practice, only the Seneca Party, which has been the dominant party in the nation's politics for decades, has ever received the straight-ticket option. Opponents of the Seneca Party have accused the party of using the straight-ticket option to eavesdrop on voters and punish them with the loss of their jobs if they do not use it, also using the promise of jobs to those running in opposing parties to get them to drop out and deny those parties the straight-ticket option.
- Hershey, Marjorie Randon. Party Politics in America 12th ed. 2007: Longman Classics in Political Science. Pages 110-111
- Federal judge blocks Michigan ban on straight-party voting
- Supreme Court keeps ban on Michigan straight-ticket voting
- Gov. Abbott signs bill to eliminate straight-ticket voting beginning in 2020
- Governor McCrory Signs Popular Voter ID into Law
- NC General Assembly: SESSION LAW 2013-381
- sample ballot from Precinct 3, Durham, North Carolina
- Norden, Lawrence; Chen, Margaret (October 21, 2008). "How Bad is North Carolina's Ballot Flaw? The Numbers Say, Pretty Bad". brennancenter.org.
- "This Year's Butterfly Ballot". Nytimes.com. October 27, 2008.
- "Voting Rights Watch: Could confusing ballots swing the presidential election in NC?". The Institute for Southern Studies. October 20, 2008.
- McCullough, Jolie (1 June 2017). "Gov. Abbott signs bill to eliminate straight-ticket voting beginning in 2020". TexasTribune.org. Texas Tribune, Inc. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
- Texas Election Code, Section 52.071
- Miller, Rick (October 26, 2016). J.C. Seneca seeks Seneca Nation presidency again. The Salamanca Press. Retrieved October 26, 2016.