Some have questions on straight party voting

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2008

By Steve Huffman
Since 1968, North Carolina voters marking a straight Democratic or Republican ticket have had to take an extra step in casting a ballot for president.
They’ve had to mark their presidential choices separately.
And every year, that extra step causes concern and consternation among a percentage of the state’s voters.
“They don’t understand why they have to do it and I don’t understand why they have to do it,” said Nancy Evans, director of the Rowan County Board of Elections. “It’s just the way it is.”
She said Board of Elections workers go out of their way to make sure voters remember they have to mark a second box, even if voting a straight ticket.
Voters are told verbally when they receive their ballots and at the same time are presented a piece of paper reading: “A straight party vote DOES NOT include the office of president or any nonpartisan race or issue.”
In addition, a note posted inside each voting booth reminds voters of the same. Finally, instructions on the ballot seek to drive home the point.
Evans said all those efforts don’t keep Board of Elections workers from fielding a number of complaints over an issue that only the N.C. General Assembly can change.
“People don’t understand why it’s separate,” Evans said of casting a vote in the presidential race.
Democrats accuse Republicans of a diabolical plot involving voting a straight ticket that’s not really straight.
Republicans return the favor, leveling similar accusations at the Democrats.
Down in Raleigh, Johnnie McLean, deputy director of the State Board of Elections, said she doesn’t really understand why the ballot is designed as it is, but agreed that only the General Assembly can change the matter.
She said the law was in effect when she came to work with the state Board of Elections and said she’s always been told it was passed by Democratic legislators who in 1967 wanted to separate their state candidates from the national candidate for president.
That candidate wound up being Hubert Humphrey, but Robert Kennedy was considered a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination before his assassination in June 1968.
McLean said that almost every year, Republican legislators introduce a bill in the state legislature that would return the ballot to a true “straight ballot” issue.
She said that every year, Democrats send the bill to committee where it eventually dies.
“I think the Democrats keep it there,” McLean said of dead-end legislative committees where the bill most often resides.
McLean said she’d love to see ballots changed to where voting a straight ticket means the voter is voting a full ticket.
“But it won’t change before next Tuesday, rest assured,” she said.