January 12, 2013
How Straight Party Voting is Broken
Since the topic of straight-party voting has come up, of course there are those who want the option to stay. They believe that if I don't want to use it, I don't have to, but why take it away from those who do want to use it? Hey, great question. Let's answer that.
Because many use it incorrectly and that skews elections.
First, what's the point behind the straight-party option? The intent is that a voter can enter the voting booth, connect the line for the party and that will tally a vote for every candidate in a partisan race who is a member of that party. If there are non-partisan races or referenda on the ballot, no vote is tallied for those unless one is specifically marked on the ballot. All good so far, right?
Additionally, if there is a partisan race where the voter does not want to tally a vote for the member of the party that they connected the straight-party line for, they can override that vote by marking the ballot in that race. Here's an example. Let's say for example, I want to vote for every Democrat on the ballot. So I connect the line for the Democrat party in the straight-party option. But, I want to vote for the Republican for Lieutenant Governor. I can then connect the line for the Republican in that area and then turn in my ballot. I don't have to connect all the other lines for Democrats. The option is still there, though I'm not entirely certain why it's that hard to draw a one-inch line for each of the other candidates, but that's not the point here.
Now, let's take this one step further, as I'm assuming that the scenarios I've mentioned make sense. You connect the line, your intent is to cast a vote for everyone in that race. However, Ken Block has done a little research of his own. As he mentioned on Newsmakers this week, in just the town of Burrillville, during the 2010 election, 560 ballots were cast with a straight-party vote. He broke that down and just looked at those where there was a straight-party vote for the Moderate party. 115 of the 560 qualified there. Based on that and what we discussed earlier about the intent of straight-party voting, we'd have to assume that each Moderate party candidate would have received some number of votes close to 115. However, the official results showed that the Moderate Party candidate for Governor (Block himself) was credited with 18 votes. Out of those 115 ballots, here is how the votes were actually counted:
No, this is not a mistake by the Burrillville Board of Canvassers. This is how the people actually voted. 115 times, the line was connected in favor of the Moderate party, but then all but 18 times, the voters chose someone else for Governor.
Maybe people liked the Moderate Party but not Ken Block? Well, Moderate Party Attorney General candidate Chris Little received 31 votes. The voters chose someone else in the other race 84 times. Additionally, 60% of those 115 straight-party votes did not go to any Moderate Party candidate on the ballot. Even in the 2012 election, 9,000 straight-party votes were cast for the Moderate party even though they only had candidates on four ballots around the state. If you don't have a Moderate on your ballot, why are you connecting the line for the Moderate Party? (Yes, I know you did it as a form of protest mangeek, but a write-in would serve the same purpose.)
Clearly, this data shows that the voters are not using the straight-party option as it is intended, and quite often, it may not even be as the voter intended.
Here is one example of a ballot where the Moderate Party straight-party option was marked and every single other race also had a specific vote cast, and none for the Moderate candidate. Why? This is what is seen hundreds of times in each town around the state in every election.
This data may be representative of the rest of the state as it was only from one town and one party, so if the problem is seen so easily in this data set, we can clearly see what a problem it is for our elections. People got all up in arms during the last election cycle when there were mere allegations of impropriety with our voting system. Very little credible evidence was given with those allegations yet people wanted change to our election system. Here we have solid, indisputable evidence about a problem with our voting system in Rhode Island. Let's make the change. No one gets hurt, not one gets disenfranchised, and voting is no harder when we simply ask that a person draw a one inch line on their ballot another few times. This one is easy. Make it happen.