Many voting rights activists breathed a sigh of relief this year when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit overturned numerous provisions of North Carolina’s 2013 election law. The law had instituted a strict voter ID requirement, curtailed the early voting period and eliminated one-stop voting and registration, among other provisions. Critics argued that if the law were fully implemented it would lead to a sharp reduction in voting by racial minorities and younger citizens. The 4th Circuit agreed, saying that the “new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” On emergency appeal, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4 to 4 on granting a stay, which meant that the 4th Circuit’s decision will stand for the 2016 election. But there is an overlooked yet consequential provision of the law that the court did not strike down: the removal of the straight-ticket option from North Carolina ballots. As in 2014, there will be no such option on the ballot in 2016.
North Carolina had allowed voters to cast a straight ticket since its initial adoption of the secret ballot in 1909. More than 40 percent of voters used this provision in 2010, and nearly 58 percent did so in 2012.
… The absence of a straight-ticket option could be consequential. North Carolina has a long ballot, with highly competitive races for governor, a U.S. Senate seat and the presidency. There are a minimum of 15 partisan offices on the ballot this fall, 14 of which could have been chosen with the straight-ticket vote option in previous years. Without the opportunity to cast a straight-ticket vote, many North Carolina voters will need more time than usual to cast their ballot.