Voting is essential to the existence of democracy. It is one of the most cherished rights in the United States as it gives the American people the opportunity to be heard and directly influence the direction of the nation. At the end of 2015, less than a year before the 2016 Presidential Elections, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill that would change the state’s voting policy. Until recently, Michigan was one of only ten states that permitted voters to fill in either a “Republican” or “Democratic” box that would subsequently cast a vote for all Republican or all Democratic candidates on the ballot, further known as a “straight-ticket.” After multiple failed attempts to remove straight ticket voting by Michigan legislators, Senate Bill 13 finally repealed this policy, allowing Michigan to join 40 other states without this system. The idea is to encourage citizens to cast votes based on the individual rather than on partisanship.
This issue may be described as bi-partisan depending on the state in which one resides. In the State of Michigan, however, Republicans were the primary supporters of this repeal, as straight ticket voting has tended to favor Democrats. In the 2014 General Elections, 42% of voters in Macomb County took advantage of the straight-ticket option, while in Wayne County it was 52%, and almost half in Oakland County. These numbers inspired legislators once more to push for a change in policy. With so many utilizing the partisanship option, those against straight ticket voting felt that elections were skewed.
The main argument in favor of Senate Bill 13 is that it forces voters to choose people and not parties. Legislators are hoping this will encourage them to do more research and eventually become more educated on the individuals they elect. Those against this bill believe that voting a straight ticket is not harmful. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties have a set of general principles they encompass and the overall idea is that their candidates value those principles. Therefore, when voters are unsure of what particular policies each specific candidate supports, voting for someone based on similar political partisanships may be a rational way to vote. Although political parties may follow a set ideology and policies, individual party candidates are not required to follow the party line. Accordingly straight ticket voters may be voting for candidates that do not fully follow the party, while not voting for a candidate that may have embodied their beliefs a little closer. This could be detrimental if inexperienced candidates, or candidates who do not properly represent the party, are elected. Furthermore, straight ticket voting may cause more accomplished candidates to suffer if the opposing party is having a good year in the polling booths. In short, supporters of this bill argue that you do not know whom you could be voting for if you are simply voting along party lines.
In contrast, many believe that getting rid of straight ticket voting will do more harm than good. Providing constituents with the ability to simply vote for members of the party they identify with has proven to be beneficial to senior citizens or citizens with disabilities. Many of these groups find it difficult to study all the candidates on the ballot prior to voting because of lack of time, lack of resources, and physical limitations. Allowing straight ticket voting also increases convenience and saves time. Voter turnout in the United States and Michigan is low. In the 2014-midterm elections, voter turnout was only 43% in Michigan. Straight ticket voting can encourage voting by substantially reducing the amount of time one spends in the polling booth. Eliminating this option will likely increase the overall time spent during the voting process. Michigan already has the sixth longest voter waiting time in the country. Accommodating these long lines, or the issues these long lines pose, could be costly for the state and its municipalities and negatively impact voter-turnout.
One way to mitigate some of these problems may be by passing House Bill 4724. House Bill 4724 would provide for “no-reason absentee” ballots. Currently in the state of Michigan, you are allowed an absentee ballot for only a few different reasons: if you are out of town, incarcerated, 60 years of age or older, unable to attend due to religious reasons, or cannot vote without assistance. If this bill passes, Michigan will be one of 28 states that allow their constituents to request absentee ballots without the need for any of these particular excuses. You will be able to acquire a ballot simply if you are too busy working or taking care of your children to spend time at a polling booth. Ultimately, it could allow citizens to avoid lines, scheduling conflicts, and save time, while increasing the overall voter turnout rate.
Straight ticket voting was an issue that needed to be addressed especially before such an important election season. Those in opposition argue that straight ticket voting furthers partisan politics, encourages convenience over political proficiency, and increase polarization between political parties by contributing to the decrease in both parties’ moderates at a time when many extreme left or right-wingers are voted into office. On the other hand, supporters believe that it saves time and provides voting accessibility. Though it will remove the ease of voting for only one political party, eliminating straight ticket voting does not eliminate the ability to vote for only Republicans or Democrats. Knowing that they will now have to go through the entire ballot and explore each name individually, this change in policy will at the very least encourage some voters to be more thoughtful in the polling booths while others may feel the need to do further extensive research on candidates. Further evaluation of the overall impact of repealing straight-ticket voting will need to be conducted after the 2016 presidential election in November.
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