With Election Day less than a week away, Democrats and Republicans alike are advocating their viewers and listeners vote “straight-Republican” or “straight-Democrat” when they go to the polls.
Though this may help political parties achieve their objectives by garnering control over local, state and national offices and legislatures, it does little to promote the free democratic process Americans have come to cherish.
Currently, there are 14 states, including Texas, that allow a straight-ticket ballot during elections. This means that the ballot will have an option during general elections to automatically vote for all candidates from a particular party.
Straight ticket voting is a process that has been in place for more than a century in the U.S. It wasn’t until the 1970’s where politics began the process of becoming based less on party lines and more on the individual candidate.
Within the past couple years, however, as politics become more polarized, this trend is beginning to decline.
On one hand, allowing straight ticket voting appears to encourage voter turnout. Many choose not to come out to the polls and vote on Election Day because they don’t feel as if they know enough about the candidates to make an informed decision in the election.
Thus, when people take the time to learn the platforms of anyone from presidential candidates to county sheriffs, they should be more confident in their participation in the American political process.
The downside of this, however, is that politics is being narrowed down into three separate “camps”. By voting on party lines alone, voters simply identify as “Democrat” or “Republican” without much forethought as to what candidates believe.
The use of a straight ticket policy also discourages voters from learning about their local candidates, who are usually placed at the bottom of the ballot. On off-years (such as this coming Election Day) the general election ballot will include selections for a variety of statewide and local offices.
Though big-money statewide candidates such as Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis are able to have time on all modes of media, the same will most likely not hold true for a local candidate for county office. Thus, voters tend to be the least educated on these “small-money” local candidates.
It’s ironic that the local representatives, the ones who are idolized as “the voices of the people” in a bureaucratic democratic system and the biggest influences of our day-to-day lives, are the ones who get noticed the least during elections. Getting rid of the straight ticket policy, however, may change this.
North Carolina is currently the only state that has abolished straight ticket elections, but other states may soon follow suit. North Carolina has made an important step in making policy that they believe will help voters become more educated on the stances of their local representatives, who shape so much of their own state’s policy.
Doing away with the straight ticket voting system may be the key to solving America’s voter turnout problem.
The more educated and engaged constituents are in politics, the more they will feel inclined to participate in our country’s vital democratic system.