Last week, Michigan became the latest state to eliminate straight-party voting. The action was contentious because it was political. “The vast majority of clerks around the state and Democrats in the Legislature opposed the bill because they feel it will create confusion at the polls and dramatically lengthen lines at polling precincts, especially in urban areas where hours-long waits are already not unusual,” the Detroit Free Press reported. North Carolina has gone that route, but without much fuss … so far. A barely noticed provision on page 38 of a 49-page election reform bill passed in 2013 eliminated straight-party voting (SPV). More attention was paid to changes in early voting and the requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls. Although there was no question about the legality of killing SPV, the move was politically risky. Voting for all the Democrats or all the Republicans on the ballot in a single stroke had been a hugely popular convenience for many decades in North Carolina.
In the 2012 election, 2.5 million North Carolina voters did exactly that, accounting for 56 percent of all voters. Even though more North Carolina voters are registered as unaffiliated these days, those who are Democrats and Republicans are loyal Democrats and Republicans. They tend to vote the party — and, thanks to SPV, they didn’t waste time doing it.
So why in the world would the legislature include a provision called “Vote the person not the party” in its comprehensive election reform bill? Well, you can figure why it was buried within a comprehensive election reform bill and given little or no separate discussion. You can also assume there was partisan motivation at work.
In 2012, those straight-party votes went 1.4 million for Democrats and 1.1 million for Republicans. Removing that tool, to the extent it depresses voting, likely will cost Democrats proportionately more votes than it will cost Republicans.