I have lived, worked and voted in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Indiana, Virginia and Pennsylvania since I was first old enough to cast a ballot in 1973.
Not once in that time have I pushed a button or clicked a lever or filled out an oval with a No. 2 pencil to indicate I wanted to vote for everyone on a straight party line.
That’s in part due to the fact that, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), in addition to Pennsylvania, only eight other states allow it — Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.
I really don’t remember straight-party voting as a single-button ballot option being available during the two years I lived in Indiana, but it wouldn’t have mattered to me anyway.
I know this is going to sound naïve, but I still believe that when you go to vote, it should be for individuals based on their record and qualifications, not on which party logo they have next to their names.
That’s part of the reason The Daily Item and good community newspapers everywhere spend a lot of time and resources working on stories and publishing records of candidates for office. Educating voters about candidates is an important part of our jobs and we work hard at it.
For the May primary last spring, we did more candidate video interviews that ever before, asking candidates in each race the same questions.
We published stories on every contested race. We told people where to vote, what was on their ballots and what the candidates' positions were on key issues.
We will do even more this fall in the general election.
Because of our focus on educating voters, we found Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf veto of Senate Bill 48, which would have, among other things, eliminated straight party voting, so disappointing. That veto also, at least for the moment, eliminated a provision that would have helped counties pay for new voting machines.
“Pennsylvania must secure its elections and provide real reform that makes it easier to vote,” Wolf said. “Senate Bill 48 makes changes to our elections that I do not believe strike the right balance to improve access to voters or security.”
Pennsylvania isn’t the only state where this idea has recently failed to move forward. According to the NCSL, the Michigan legislature tried to eliminate straight-party voting in 2016, but a federal court judge stopped the move, saying there was evidence it “disproportionally affected” African American voters.
That decision was overturned by a higher appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. However, straight-party voting in that state was resurrected when voters approved it in a statewide ballot proposal last November.
Wolf’s reasoning, as detailed in our story by Harrisburg reporter John Finnerty, focused on not wanting to make voting harder.
“As we approach an election with anticipated large turnout and new voting technology, I’m concerned the isolated removal of a convenient voting option would increase waiting times and could discourage participation,” Wolf said.
Some supporters of Wolf’s veto apparently saw the move to end straight-party voting as part of a broad Republican strategy to impose laws and restrictions to limit minorities from voting for Democratic candidates. We have opposed such moves and will continue to do so.
But in a state where voter turnout is alarming low most years, and not even all that robust in presidential elections, it’s difficult for me to imagine there suddenly being long lines at the polls if people couldn’t vote for a straight-party ticket.
The Daily Item said the following in a July 3 editorial:
“Pennsylvania should eliminate straight-party voting to create a more engaged and committed group of voters.”
I was part of developing that opinion. I have not changed my mind.
And just because you can vote straight party line, doesn't mean you should.
Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.