The end of straight-ticket voting in North Carolina is ANOTHER COMPELLING REASON TO VOTE EARLY. Could the end of the custom of straight-ticket/straight-party voting be the Election Day problem that no one sees coming? In all the news about voter suppression laws, this change has not received a lot of coverage, possibly because it does not sound as nefarious and discriminatory the attempted new Voter ID laws and fewer Early Voting sites. In fact, in the court rulings this summer, the courts did not challenge the Republican-led change to end the option of straight-ticket voting even as the court struck down Voter ID and more.
But, I am very concerned that in practice, the end of straight-ticket voting will lead to long lines on Election Day and that these long lines will effectively discourage hourly workers, parents who need child care, and others who can't afford to wait in long lines. Whenever I hear about voter discouragement and obstacles on Election Day, I worry about that dampening Democratic turnout.
I Voted Early last week and noticed that the new ballot took a lot longer to fill out--I would estimate 10 minutes instead of 3 minutes, three times as long! The North Carolina ballot requires voters to fill in bubbles with a pencil, much like a scantron sheet for standardized tests. With the memories of 2000 Bush-Gore seared in my brain, I made sure to fill in each bubble completely and carefully--no ambiguous votes for me! I was excited to vote but the process of completing the ballot was a noticeable hassle, to be honest. We use to be able to vote with a "one, two, flip" strategy: vote for President, vote for the straight-party ticket, then flip over the ballot to vote for nonpartisan judges races and ballot initiatives.
If we had that option, this year I would have had to fill in 13 bubbles (still kind of a lot, actually!). Without straight-ticket voting, I had to fill in 31 bubbles. I knew exactly who I wanted to vote for and it still took me 10 minutes to fill out my ballot and check it over Now imagine someone who is undecided on some races, or who has trouble filling out the ballot for any reason. It could take them a significantly longer time. So not only is there the issue of down-ballot dropoff of people who just get tired and and don't fill out the whole ballot, but I believe the waiting times to vote on Election Day could be drastically longer than we are predicting.
According to the Raleigh News and Observer, straight-ticket voting was popular with both Republicans and Democrats. In fact, the straight-ticket option was used by the majority of all voters:
Straight-ticket voting allows voters to choose all candidates from one party by checking a single box.
It’s popular. During the 2012 presidential election, 56 percent of North Carolinians voted straight-ticket as Democrats cast 1.4 million straight-ticket ballots and Republicans 1.1 million. In a 2013 survey, the Raleigh-based Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling found 68 percent support for straight-ticket voting and 21 percent opposition. PPP found Democrats and Republicans supported it almost identically.
But in 2013, North Carolina lawmakers eliminated straight-ticket voting while passing the Republican-backed election revisions law.
Since 2.5 million people used the straight-ticket option in 2012, and now it takes 7 minutes longer to fill out the ballot without that option, that means it will take about 300,000 extra hours of voting time just to actually fill out ballots this year. And this affects everyone, not just those who used the straight-ticket option, because in previous elections, the lines were made shorter for everyone by those who voted faster.
How much of this 300,000 hours can be absorbed by Early Voting, and how many long lines will there be on November 8th? It's hard to say in advance, but this is another compelling reason to Vote Early, now through Saturday, November 5th at 1 pm. Get your ballot cast, and counted--and make the line that much shorter on Election Day for other people who want to exercise their right to vote!
--by Amy Tiemann, PhD, Chapel Hill NC