No more straight-ticket option in voting booths this November

The 2013 law eliminated straight-ticket voting, meaning that in the November election, for the first time, you'll no longer be able to fill out one bubble to vote all-Democrat, or all-Republican. (Image: State Board of Elections)

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- After a federal judge struck down much of North Carolina's controversial voter ID law back in July, one provision remained, and it might have the most powerful effect on this November's election--especially in local races all over the state.

The 2013 law eliminated straight-ticket voting, meaning that this November, for the first time in a presidential election, you'll no longer be able to fill out one bubble to vote all-Democrat, or all-Republican.

Technically, you've always had to fill out two bubbles in North Carolina, since the vote for president has required a separate vote since the 1960s.

This provision might lower vote totals, and make for tighter local races on November 8.

"I would think it would hurt [election results]" said Chris Cooper, professor and department head of political science at Western Carolina University. "You have this thing in elections called ballot roll-off, where you tend to vote at the top of ticket, but down towards the end when it comes to the race for dog catcher, you're less likely to vote," Cooper said.

"We're gonna see a lot more ballot roll-off this year, because of the lack of a straight-ticket option."

The practice has been on the decline nationally--fewer than 10 states still allow it--but it's popular in North Carolina. Nearly 2.5 million voters cast their ballots that way in the 2012 election, about 56 percent of all votes.

Jean Anderson has a Clinton/Kaine sign in her front yard, but she said it's mostly because her son got an internship working with the campaign.

"I'm a registered independent," said Anderson. "I usually don't vote straight-ticket. I always tried to get the League of Women's Voters information, go through it, and pick my candidates accordingly."

Registered voters can prepare by looking up their name to get the sample ballot for their precinct. Voters can find an example sample ballot for a downtown Asheville ballot here.

But what if voters find themselves in the ballot box on Election Day, staring at candidates' names in the lower races that they're not familiar with? Many do what Anderson says she's always done.

"If I knew anything about them, I would vote," she said. "Otherwise I'd leave it blank."

This practice could tighten a lot of "down-ballot" races, as they're sometimes called.

"Obviously voters will still see the party ID designation next to the candidate," said Cooper. "So you'll still know the party, but it will take a lot more screens and a lot more punching to get the same result."

That extra time is backed up by sample tests done at the Buncombe County Board of Elections. Director Trena Parker said in August that after conducting a few "time trials," filling out one ballot was often taking 1-2 more minutes than it has in the past.

That could be a significant impact come Election Day, when crowds are already supposed to be heavy due to the lack of an incumbent in this year's presidential election.

Advocates of eliminating straight-ticket voting say it reduces partisan divides and forces voters to learn about the candidates.

Anderson's neighbor, Mallory Fullmer, has a Chuck Archerd sign in his yard, mostly because "he's a friend and lives in the neighborhood," said Fullmer. He agrees that knowing candidates and their stance on issues is part of any resident's civic duty.

"It's sort of incumbent upon us as an electorate to do that research," Fullmer said. "Without question, the lower ballot races are extremely important to daily life here in Buncombe County. It would pay if people did their research and really cared about those votes, because they'll have most impact, day-to-day."

Early voting in Buncombe County starts on October 20 at these locations.

Voters in North Carolina's other 99 counties can click here to find their county's early voting schedule.

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