Now that North Carolina’s monster Voter ID law has been struck down by the federal courts, we’re almost back to the status quo of voting rights in North Carolina, with one important difference – the elimination of straight-ticket voting. All provisions of the law that were challenged were struck down, however the straight-ticket voting provision was not challenged and is the only part of the law that remains in place.
That matters because this Presidential election cycle, voters across North Carolina will be faced with more than 20 races on their ballots. From a hotly contested U.S. Senate contest that may decide which party controls the chamber to numerous council of state races and, of course, the matchup between Cooper and McCrory – that’s a bunch of important races for voters to sift through.
And in past elections, a majority of North Carolina voters have chosen to vote straight ticket to help them navigate their ballot. During the 2012 general election, more than 2.5 million voters opted for straight ticket voting out of a little more than 4.5 million ballots cast. Democrats have strongly favored the practice in past elections, with around 1.4 million Democrats casting straight-ticket ballots in 2012 as compared to 1.1 million Republicans.
The option to vote straight-party meant that in one easy step you could vote for all the Democratic or Republican candidates. Then voters only had a few non-partisan judicial races and soil and water commissioner type races remaining down at the bottom of their ballot and they’re done.
A couple of questions jump to mind: How much longer will lines at the polls be due to the time-consuming and tedious nature of filling in more than 20 races and in some counties many more? How many voters will skip down-ballot races altogether because we live in a society built on the quickness and ease of everything? (Seriously, people get annoyed when it takes a web page more than 5 seconds to load.)
And maybe most importantly for the election results, what does having Trump at the top of the ballot mean for ticket-splitting or undervoting? In the wake of Trump’s sexual assault comments, speculation on these scenarios has markedly increased.
“GOP faces possible nightmare scenario, where moderates stay home, Trump voters don’t vote down-ballot out of spite,” wrote @SeanMcElwee on Twitter.
GOP faces possible nightmare scenario, where moderates stay home, Trump voters don’t vote down-ballot out of spite. pic.twitter.com/ISOC3vehAR
— sean. (@SeanMcElwee) October 9, 2016
Stephen Wolf (@PoliticsWolf) wrote “Seems more likely it’s from Rs so thoroughly disgusted with Trump that they don’t vote period, not Trump voters skipping down ballot races.”
Republicans eliminated straight ticket voting, like other provisions in the voter ID bill, because they believed it would provide them with an advantage. Obviously we’re in uncharted territory with Trump as a presidential candidate, and this structural change to voting just adds one more unknown factor in the mix. I think the elimination of straight-ticket voting and the Trump effect ends up sinking a down-ballot Republican candidate or two in North Carolina this November.
Aaron Sarver, a politics junkie, has held several roles for the Democratic Party. He lives in Asheville.