Time to move on from straight ticket voting

By Niki Kelly

I’m just going to say it. It’s probably time for Indiana to join the rest of the country in eliminating straight ticket voting.

It leads to choosing unqualified or questionable candidates because the R or D after the name is more important than the person who will hold the office.

Also called straight party voting, it allows voters to choose a party’s entire slate of candidates with one mark or selection. No thinking or reflection needed.

Only six states offer straight ticket voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Those are Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Counties aren’t required to submit straight party voting data to state officials, so there are no statewide numbers. But I did look at unofficial results from Tuesday in Allen and Marion counties to see how much the option is being used. They are respectively one of the most Republican and Democrat counties in the state.

In Marion County, about 69% of the votes cast used straight a straight ticket. That equaled about 100,900 Democrat votes and 52,400 Republican votes. In Allen County, about 48% of the ballots cast were straight ticket, or about 32,200 Republican votes and 16,800 Democrat votes. Allen County’s straight ticket voting was even less in 2020 at 42%.

The number of states offering the option has been declining in popularity over time with bills introduced regularly to eliminate it. The last time Indiana broached the idea in any serious manner was 2015. Back then, Indiana was one of 11 states that offered it. Former GOP state representative Dave Ober filed the bill.

“We’re not disenfranchising anyone,” he said then. “It’s a difference in philosophy. Do you think people vote for candidates or parties?”

But Democrats in 2015 had concerns about whether it would increase the time it takes to vote, leading to longer lines at the polls.

It passed the committee on a party line vote — Republicans for it and Democrats against. Then it passed the House by a margin of 59-35. Seven Republicans joined 28 Democrats voting against the bill. But the Senate removed the language, and the bill died.

I heard grousing the day after election results, and it seems to show both sides use straight ticket voting to its detriment.

Democrats noted the GOP embraced Diego Morales for secretary of state, whose campaign can only be described as woeful and ridiculous. Republicans literally chose a man who was fired from the secretary of state’s office once and was written up for poor performance a second time. His veteran status became an issue, several women alleged sexual harassment. And he voted in one county in 2018 while receiving a homestead tax credit on his primary residence in another county.

Similarly, Republicans pointed out Democrats re-elected Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears despite several years of questionable decisions and rising crime. His use of the red flag law has been criticized. Dangerous offenders have been let out of jail on his watch only to commit new crimes, and the Fraternal Order of Police opposed him.

In both of those cases, quality candidates offered a choice. So why is the vestige of straight ticket voting hanging on?

It makes voters look lazy and leads to disenchantment. The voters might indeed still choose all Republicans or Democrats. But at least they would have to review each race and make a pointed decision.

Niki Kelly is editor-in-chief of indianacapitalchronicle.com, where this commentary first appeared. She has covered Indiana politics and the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 for publications, including the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Send comments to [email protected]