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Straight-ticket voting or straight-party voting is the practice of voting for candidates of the same party for multiple positions. For example, if a member of the Democratic Party in the United States votes for every candidate from President, Senator, Representative, Governor, state legislators and those running for local government that is a Democrat, this is considered straight-ticket voting. In general, straight-ticket voting was a very common occurrence up until around the 1960s and 1970s. Since that time, straight-ticket voting has declined in the United States among the general voting population; however, strong partisans, that is strong party identifiers, have remained straight ticket voters.
In the early days of the parties, it was nearly impossible not to vote on a straight party line vote. To vote, voters would receive a colored ballot with that party's nominees on it. To split ticket vote, you would need two different colored ballots, which made it confusing to the voter. Often, the voter would choose a specific party, and vote for everyone from that party. Some states have had an option to select "vote straight-ticket Democrat" and "vote straight-ticket Republican" that voters can check instead of voting for each race; states that do so include Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
One possible reason straight-ticket voting has declined among the general electorate in past years is the power of incumbency has risen. Also, there are very few places where there still is a one-party rule. In the South after the civil war, the Democrats were completely in power, and the hostility toward Republicans made it that an overwhelming majority of voters voted straight down the line on the Democratic side. Furthermore, local parties tend to run very weak party identifiers for local positions, such as mayor or town council, so at local levels, candidates must actually fight for their votes.
Straight-ticket Voting in Individual States
The straight-ticket voting option differs slightly from state to state.
The Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in October 2012 to reinstate straight ticket voting in New Mexico.
In North Carolina, voting "straight party" (using the term from an NC ballot) does not include a vote for the President and Vice President of the United States. North Carolina voters therefore must make separate selections for the President/Vice President and the straight-party option (see sample ballot from Precinct 3, Durham, North Carolina).
This idiosyncrasy on the North Carolina ballot is described by some as "a ballot flaw" that may confuse voters, potentially resulting in voters failing to cast a vote for President and Vice President when doing so was their intent. In the 2000 presidential election, there was a 3.15% "undervote" ((total voter turnout - total votes for President and Vice President) / total voter turnout); in the 2004 presidential election, there was a 2.57% undervote. This means that in raw numbers, more than 92,000 North Carolina voters in the 2000 election turned out to vote but did not vote for president; similarly, in 2004, more than 75,000 North Carolina voters turned out to vote but not vote for president.
North Carolina was widely regarded as a swing state in the 2008 Presidential election. Barack Obama had a narrow lead over John McCain in the polls (as of October 26, 2008), and similar undervote in North Carolina was expected to impact the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.
In Texas, "attempting to vote for President after choosing straight party voting could nullify one's vote."
- Hershey, Marjorie Randon. Party Politics in America 12th ed. 2007: Longman Classics in Political Science. page 110-111
- National Conference of State Legislatures 2008
- WISH TV "NM lawsuit seeks straight party ticket voting," October 11, 2012
- How Bad is North Carolina’s Ballot Flaw? The Numbers Say, Pretty Bad, Norden, Lawrence and Chen, Margaret, October 21, 2008
- Voting Rights Watch: Could confusing ballots swing the presidential election in NC?, The Institute for Southern Studies, October 20, 2008
- Norden, Lawrence and Chen, Margaret. How Bad is North Carolina’s Ballot Flaw? The Numbers Say, Pretty Bad. October 21, 2008. http://www.brennancenter.org/blog/archives/how_bad_is_north_carolinas_ballot_flaw_the_numbers_say_pretty_bad/