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Avoid Straight-Party Voting
Straight-party voting laws are confusing.
Misprogramming often counts straight-party votes incorrectly.

by Ellen Theisen, posted October 19, 2008

Straight-party voting (also called "straight-ticket" voting) means selecting a single bubble or box for a specific political party in order to register your vote for multiple candidates of that party. Only 15 states allow straight-party voting, and the laws vary widely from state to state.

We strongly recommend: avoid using the straight-party option. If you want to vote for all candidates of the same party, mark each candidate individually.

Here's why:

Voters, and even some election officials, are not clear on the laws in their states. Even if you understand exactly how straight-party voting is supposed to work in your state, the election equipment may be misprogrammed and your votes may not be counted as you intended.

Misprogramming has often caused voting equipment to tabulate straight-party votes incorrectly. For example, recent misprogramming in New Mexico and West Virginia was detected before the election. But in prior elections, misprogramming caused straight-party votes to be dropped or counted for the opposite candidate, for example, in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.

There is no way to know how many straight-party programming errors were never caught! There is no way to know how many will occur in the 2008 general election!

Update: 10/21/08. Straight-party vote-flipping has already occurred in this election on two different e-voting machines in Texas -- the ES&S iVotronic in Dallas and the Hart InterCivic eSlate in Houston.

If you are unconvinced, read below the line for the confusing details about straight-party voting, emphasis voting, crossover voting, crossover voting in multiple-vote contests, overvoting in the straight-party option, and details about different straight-party voting laws in individual states. The details are particularly confusing in North Carolina, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.


A "straight-party" vote may or may not be supposed to select all candidates of that party on the ballot, depending on the state you vote in. If you vote straight-party on an e-voting machine, the appropriate candidates for that party should be selected and highlighted. Caution: On an e-voting machine 'selecting' a candidate that is already highlighted will deselect the candidate.

"Crossover voting" means voting for a party and then voting for a specific candidate of a different party in a specific contest. If crossover voting is allowed, your vote for the specific candidate should override your straight-party vote in that specific contest and no other contests.

"Emphasis voting" means voting for a party and then voting for a specific candidate of that same party in a specific contest. The rules are the same in every state. On a paper ballot, emphasis voting should not cancel your vote for the individual. On a Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting machine, it will deselect the individual and you must reselect it in order to have your vote count.

Some states do not have partisan multiple-vote contests (vote for more than one). In those that do, "crossover voting in multiple-vote contests" should void the straight-party vote in that contest only, and your individual votes in that contest should be counted. Ballots in West Virginia include a good explanation of crossover voting in both single and multiple-vote contests.

"When you mark any individual candidate in a different party, that vote will override your straight party vote for that office. When you mark any individual candidate in a different party for an office where more than one will be elected, YOU MUST MARK EACH OF YOUR CHOICES FOR THAT OFFICE because your straight ticket vote will not be counted for that office."

The following table gives details about straight-party voting in individual states.
* We are still researching the impact of overvoting in the straight-party option (voting for two parties) in states marked with an asterisk. In some cases, we were unable to obtain the information from the officials we asked.

State Straight-party vote selects all candidates for that party. Crossover voting overrides in only that one race. Crossover in multiple-vote contest overrides ALL straight-party votes for that contest only.
AL Yes * Yes No multiple-vote contests.
IN Yes.
Voting for two parties voids all votes in all partisan contests.
Yes Yes on paper ballots
IA Yes.
Voting for two parties causes only individual partisan votes to count.
Yes Yes on paper ballots
KY Yes * Yes No partisan multiple-vote contests.
MI Yes * Yes Yes on paper ballots
NM Yes * Yes No partisan multiple-vote contests in 2008.
NC No [1] * Yes Yes on paper ballots
OK No [2] * Yes No partisan multiple-vote contests.
PA Yes * Yes Yes on paper ballots
RI Yes * Yes Yes on paper ballots
SC Yes [3] * Yes Yes on paper ballots
TX Yes * Yes No partisan multiple-vote contests.
UT Yes * Yes on paper ballots

No on DREs; it deselects the straight-party vote in all partisan contests.

No partisan multiple-vote contests.
WV Yes * Yes Yes on paper ballots
WI Yes * Yes No partisan multiple-vote contests.
State Straight-party vote selects all candidates for that party. Crossover voting overrides in only that one race. Crossover in multiple-vote contest overrides ALL straight-party votes for that contest only.
 

[1] North Carolina:
A straight party vote DOES NOT include the President. The ballot says:

"The offices of President and Vice President of the United States are not included in a Straight Party vote. This contest must be voted separately."


[2] Oklahoma:
Ballots often have straight-party voting options in multiple places on the ballot. A straight-party vote applies ONLY to the set of offices it precedes on the ballot. This means to vote straight-party in all contests, you must mark several separate straight-party selections.

So, for example, as this Tulsa County sample ballot shows, you can vote straight-party for one or more of: a) Presidential office, b) State Officials, and c) Congressional Officers. A straight-party vote for the Presidential office WILL NOT count for the state and congressional officer contests.


[3] South Carolina -- Important Correction:
Information previously distributed was based on a law that has been changed since the 2004 general election. The South Carolina State Elections Commission website says (our highlighting):

"Straight party voting applies to President and all other partisan offices on the ballot. Straight party is the first choice a voter is presented with when voting a General Election ballot in South Carolina. If a voter chooses to vote straight party, each candidate that party has nominated for any office on the ballot is automatically selected. Voters can later change their choice for individual offices (also known as crossover voting)."

Assuming the machines are correctly programmed, here are the rules that apply:

On DREs. Straight-party votes have always included President on electronic ballots cast on electronic voting machines.

On paper ballots. The law was changed since 2004 so that now straight-party votes on paper ballots also include President.


Intellectuals solve problems,
geniuses prevent them.
~ Albert Einstein
 
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