Tucked deep inside North Carolina’s election revision law that has stirred great passion is a provision that barely gets noticed. It’s not part of any lawsuit, but it eliminates a method of voting that affects more people than nearly any other part of the new law. This change also illustrates how lawmakers can manipulate rules to harm one group of voters but wind up harming a large number of their own supporters, too. In 2012, a solid majority – 56 percent – of North Carolina voters marked one box on their ballots to indicate their choices in more than a dozen races, from governor to county commissioner. It’s called straight-ticket voting, and in 2012 it involved 1.4 million ballots for Democratic candidates and 1.1 million for Republicans. In an ideal world, our schools, TV stations and other media would teach people about civics and citizenship, the importance of voting, the candidates and offices on the ballot, and how to determine who’s a goat, not just a donkey or elephant. Instead, voting is discounted, and contests are covered like a horse race – who’s ahead in the polls and who’s got the most money behind him.
Given that reality, the straight-ticket option gives voters a handy way to participate in many contests with a single mark for a party’s slate of candidates. That’s especially helpful with North Carolina’s notoriously long ballot, which extends to partisan races for clerk of court, even coroner. Straight-ticket voting allows voters to efficiently, effectively show support for candidates of the party that best shares their values. It makes the voting process less intimidating and more accessible, and it reduces the waiting time for everybody.
Why get rid of it? Because Republican leaders decided it hurts their chances to win more elections. The change has nothing to do with preventing fraud or improving integrity; it’s all about analyzing the voting behavior of supporters and opponents for a party’s self-serving gain.