The never-ending story that Mississippi’s Republican U.S. Senate primary has become has raised the issue of the desirability of partisan purity in elections in Mississippi. The argument is that Republicans should vote in Republican primaries and Democrats in Democratic primaries.
Of course, Mississippi election law doesn’t provide for partisan voter registration and it likewise doesn’t prohibit tiptoeing through the political tulips by crossing party lines in elections save the prohibition against voting in one party’s first primary and then crossing the line to vote in another party’s second primary in the same election.
In the general election, voters can pick and choose as they please between the nominees of the respective parties and the independent candidates. That fact has led to the phenomenon of self-identified Republicans voting exclusive for GOP candidates at the federal and state level, but voting for Democrats in some county or municipal elections and vice-versa.
For those who are bothered by all that partisan freedom of choice, there are other methods of voter behavior that can be enforced by law. For those upset by the fact that voters they believe to be traditional or usual Democrats voted in the GOP second primary this time around or vice-versa, there’s the option of what’s called “straight-ticket voting.”
Straight-ticket voting allows voters to simply decide to vote for all Republicans or all Democrats. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that only 11 states now allow pure straight-ticket voting: Alabama, Oklahoma, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Kentucky, South Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. Three other states allow limited straight-ticket voting: New Jersey allows it only in primary elections, North Carolina in all races except for presidential elections, and Rhode Island only in general elections.
The NCSL defines straight-ticket voting as “a process that allows voters to choose a party’s entire slate of candidates with just a single ballot marking. Voters make one punch or mark on the ballot in order to vote for every candidate of that party for each office on the ballot.”
The major praise for straight-ticket voting is that it shortens and simplifies the voting process. The major complaint is that the process “dumbs down” voting and removes the incentive for voters to give much thought to the qualifications of voters beyond their party affiliation. The decision for voters just comes down to D’s and R’s.
Across the state line in Alabama, just over 51 percent of voters there in 2012 cast their ballots as straight-ticket ballots. Since Alabama, like Mississippi, doesn’t register voters by party, there’s no real measure of whether Democrats or Republicans gravitate more to straight tickets. But in the 2012 presidential election in Alabama, journalist Ken Hare documented that 64 percent of President Barack Obama’s vote came from straight-ticket voters while 44 percent of Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s votes came from straight-ticket voters.
For those who chafe over undecided, uncommitted or otherwise independent voters drifting back and forth across the partisan line outside of the first and second primary prohibition in Mississippi, straight-ticket voting would have significant appeal. But those who value the ability to “vote for the man (or woman) rather than the party,” the process presents significant obstacles.
Voters who gravitate toward GOP congressional leadership, but want to vote for a Democratic county supervisor would be handcuffed by the straight ticket.
straight-ticket voting empowers the political parties, empowers incumbents, and empowers the candidates with the most resources – which based on preponderance of the social media rhetoric after the Mississippi U.S. Senate second primary are the very ills that the party purity preachers claim to want to rectify.
One thing is clear at this juncture – the Mississippi Legislature will have an opportunity to turn a microscope on Mississippi election law in the 2015 session as they approach the state’s next courthouse-to-statehouse elections. And in all likelihood, at the end of that opportunity, Mississippi’s elections laws will remain substantially unchanged.
SID SALTER is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or email@example.com.