New Castle News

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August 24, 2013

John K. Manna: Straight party voting option could change

NEW CASTLE — Another movement is afoot that would affect voters not only in Pennsylvania, but also across America.

Laws requiring voters to provide photo identification have been in abundance throughout the country — including Pennsylvania — the last couple years, but a couple other proposals would change the way people vote.

The proposals would eliminate the straight-party ballot option, the practice of pushing one button on a voting machine and having all the votes cast for candidates from one party.

One bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican from the Lehigh Valley, would ban the option in federal elections. Another bill has been introduced in the Pennsylvania House to eliminate straight-party voting for all general elections in the state.

Voters would not be precluded from selecting all Republicans or all Democrats, but they would have to make individual selections.

Pennsylvania is one of only 15 states that allow voters to vote a straight Republican or Democratic ballot.

Straight party votes are heaviest in presidential elections. In last November’s election in Lawrence County, for example, 43.4 percent of the ballots cast were straight party compared to 18.7 percent in the previous year.

Dent told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the goal of the legislation is to give people “the opportunity to think about the choices they’re making on each and every race.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, a Utah Democrat who has joined Dent in sponsoring the bill, said there is too much partisanship and that it would be “a more thoughtful process for voters to look at each race on the ballot.”

Sponsors of the Pennsylvania bill, Reps. Eli Evankovich and Justin Simmons, both Republicans, say straight-party voting creates a process that is “inherently more partisan.” Their hope is that by eliminating the straight–party option votes will be cast based on a candidate’s merit and the issues they stand for rather than party labels.

The assumption is that people who cast a straight party vote don’t consider the merits of any candidate, that they aren’t selective. Maybe they are selective, and in their thought process they decide to vote for all Republicans or all Democrats. So, why go through the entire ballot when they can push just one button?

Plus, these legislators make it sound like the voters haven’t thought about the candidates before they entered the voting booth. This may be hard for them to fathom, but many voters actually think about the merits of the candidates even days before an election.

And how about the argument that there is too much partisanship?

In 2009, no Republican members of Congress voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Just a few months ago in Harrisburg, no Democratic House members voted for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget.

The root of the partisanship is obvious, and it’s not with the voters.

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