Photo: K. Latham (Flickr)
When you go to the polls on election day, you can either vote in each individual race or cast a ballot for all of the members of one political party.
It’s called straight-ticket voting and fewer than a dozen states allow it. Hoosier lawmakers are considering putting an end to the practice.
One Box Checked, More Ballots Cast
A framed poster hanging on the wall of the Marion County Democratic Headquarters in Indianapolis prominently features a rooster – the symbol that represents the Democratic Party on Indiana’s ballots.
“They were posters that were placed at the precincts on the walls outside of the precincts to remind voters to vote straight party,” Marion County Democratic Chairman Joel Miller says.
Basically check a box and all your votes go to either Democrats, Republicans or Libertarians in every race.
A proposed bill in the Statehouse could soon make that poster an artifact. House Bill 1008, recently passed by the Indiana House, would eliminate straight-ticket voting in the state.
But Miller says the poster is here to stay.
“This will never be taken down because it’s still the way we should be able to vote,” he says.
Last year, Marion County Democrats received 58 percent of the straight-ticket votes in the county.
In 2012, they received double the amount of straight ticket votes as their Republican counterparts.
“They are trying to cut into vote totals that Democrats get in the larger urban counties. That’s all it is,” Miller says.
While statewide, Republicans actually garner a majority of the straight-ticket votes, Democrats dominate urban areas.
Miller compares the proposed legislation to voter ID laws.
“In Indiana, if you look, every year they have passed a bill to restrict voting more and Republicans have won more races,” he says. “This is absolutely done to maximize their advantage by limiting access to the polls.”
A Boost For Some, A Loss For Others
Rep. David Ober, R-Albion, authored the legislation.
He says this isn’t about party politics, it’s about reducing undervote — that’s when voters cast a straight-ticket ballot and forget to vote for nonpartisan races, such as school board elections, retention of judges and referenda.
“There’s a pretty steep drop off there because I think that the voter assumes that when they push that button they have voted for all races and they just go to the end of their ballot and they are done,” Ober says.
Democratic voters are more likely to vote straight-ticket — that’s according to Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Politics in Fort Wayne.
He points to Georgia, where he says Democratic candidates garnered fewer votes after the state did away with straight-ticket voting.
“I think for some of them, there might be a real belief that if you don’t know who you are voting for, you shouldn’t be pressing a button next to anybody’s name or filling in a bubble don’t vote in that one,” he says. “For others, though, I think what they are thinking is that straight-ticket voting tends to help Democratic candidates.”
Downs says the bill could also result in a bump for the Libertarian Party, which received fewer than 1 percent of the straight-ticket votes in 2014.
Indiana Libertarian Party Chairman Dan Drexler says his party supports the move politically and because it would make elections more fair.
“You are actually going to see more conscious decisions made in elections and we like that,” Drexler says.
Downs says he isn’t sure how removing the option would affect turnout, but he says there is one clear outcome.
“The real ramification is that you will start to see folks down ticket not to get as many votes,” Downs says.
Removing the straight-ticket option will mean more time in the ballot box for some voters. That’s a cause for concern for Terri Rethlake, who is a county clerk and president of the Indiana Association of Clerks of Circuit Courts.
“I spoke with a woman whose handicapped son, she takes to a polling place and because he is handicapped it is easier for him to mark the straight-ticket circle than it is to go through the whole list,” she says. “So those are the kinds of people I am concerned about disenfranchising.”
Rethlake says the majority of county clerks who are a part of her organization oppose the measure because it would decrease voter participation — especially those with handicaps and the elderly.
And if eliminating straight-ticket voting means more time in the ballot booth, it means more time in line.
“I know people who have walked away from voting because the line was too long. The questions is, will there be enough equipment to help absorb the extra time people will need to vote,” Downs says.
More than a third of Hoosiers voters cast straight-ticket ballots in 2014.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 59-35. It now heads to the Senate for the second half of the session.