Michigan voters who with a single mark can vote Democratic or Republican for every partisan office on the ballot may no longer have the option in 2016. Republicans who control the Legislature want to make Michigan the latest state to eliminate straight-ticket, or straight-party, voting. It is still used in 10 states but has been abolished by nine others in the last 20 years, including nearby Wisconsin and Illinois. To its detractors, straight-party voting encourages ill-prepared voters to pick officeholders solely on party affiliation, not their qualifications, and is a relic of party machine politics. Proponents say it is a convenient, popular option whose removal would lengthen lines, particularly in urban polling precincts, in a state with the country’s sixth-longest average wait time. The GOP-controlled Senate this month approved legislation to end the straight-ticket option, and majority House Republicans may follow in December before adjourning for the year.
Nearly half of the voters in Michigan’s proverbial bellwether, suburban Detroit’s Oakland County, cast straight-party ballots in the 2014 general election. In Wayne County, home to Detroit, the straight-ticket mark was chosen on nearly 59 percent of ballots. Forty-two percent of voters in nearby Macomb County went with the straight-party choice.
Democrats tend to be more likely to select the straight-ticket option than Republicans, though a party’s strength in a particular jurisdiction often is the x factor. Of the 300,000 straight-party votes cast in Wayne County, 75 percent were Democratic. In conservative Ottawa County west of Grand Rapids, nearly 79 percent of the 54,000 straight-ticket votes were Republican.
“It is time that Michigan’s election process became more about people, less about political parties, and even less about how long it takes to exercise one of our most fundamental rights,” said the bill sponsor, Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy.
Those opposed to the measure include Democrats, election clerks and groups such as theNAACP.
Oakland County Clerk and Register of Deeds Lisa Brown said it would either lead to longer lines for voters or higher costs for municipalities determined to prevent longer waits by buying more voting booths.