Voters to decide fate of straight ticket balloting

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Capital News Service
LANSING — On Nov. 5, Michigan voters will decide if they want to retain or eliminate a 110-year-old option of straight-party voting.
Known as Proposal 1, the proposition also requires the Secretary of State to obtain training reports from local election officials and providing penalties for stealing campaign signs or accepting payment for campaign work while a public employee. However, the elimination of straight-party voting is attracting the most attention.
Michigan is one of 17 states that allows straight-party voting.
A straight-ticket option allows voters to pull a single lever, punch a single chad or make a single mark in the ballot’s partisan section to vote for all candidates with that party’s designation. It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of all voters choose this option.
Michigan Democrats oppose the proposal and urge a “no” vote.
“It would discourage voting,” said Ben Kohrman, director of communications for the Democratic Party of Michigan. Elimination of straight-party voting would make the voting process more time-consuming, he said.
“There is nothing in the proposal that discourages voting,” said Jason Brewer, the state Republican Party press secretary. He called the issue a “red herring.”
“It doesn’t take away a right to vote,” he said. “In fact, it gives other candidates more exposure.”
Voter confusion and fatigue were the reason for establishing straight-party voting. When voters tire of the voting process and vote for only high-profile offices, it is known as voter fatigue. Lack of full understanding of voting technology, ballot instructions or ballot design can cause voter confusion.
Kohrman said that eliminating straight-party voting would create longer lines at voting booths.
Brewer said that other states that do not have the straight-party voting option do not have difficulties with voting.
Florida, the place of two major election fiascoes, is one of the states that does not offer straight-ticket option.
The Democratic Party collected enough signatures to place the issue on the ballot as a statewide referendum after the House and the Senate approved the law eliminating the option.
“No doubt, it was a partisan legislation,” Kohrman said. “It had a political purpose.”
Kohman called this attempt to eliminate straight-party voting “Republican vote suppression.”
” A Ban on straight-ticket (voting) would improve their odds,” he said.
“It is a ridiculous charge,” Brewer said. “The playing field is equal.”
In West Michigan, Kohrman points out, straight-party voters are most likely to vote Republican.
In the Detroit area, a majority of straight-party voters is likely to vote Democratic, according to data provided by the Citizen Research Council of Michigan.
The bipartisan group said 70 percent of Detroit voters used straight-party tickets during the last presidential election. More than 95 percent of them voted for the Democratic Party.
Nearly 60 percent of voters chose the straight-party option during the last presidential election in Ottawa County. More than 80 percent voted for the Republican Party.
The League of Women Voters of Michigan supports a “no” vote on Proposal 1.
“Without any other changes, it will lengthen the lines,” said Patricia Donath, the league president. “We believe in making the elections as simple as possible.”
The Michigan Association of County Clerks, which endorsed the proposal at first, took a neutral stand.
“I don’t believe clerks should try to influence voters,” said Ruth Hess, the association president. “Clerks’ ultimate goal is to make elections voter-friendly.
“Let the people decide.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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