ELECT Blog Election Law Essays on Current Topics

Straight Party Voting

By statute, the South Carolina legislature allows for and requires the option for straight-ticket voting.  South Carolina Code §7-13-330 provides the instructions for ballot forms, and South Carolina Code §7-13-1340 (b) requires that voting devices “permit each elector … to vote a straight party or body ticket, in one operation[.]”

South Carolina is one of only eight states that currently allow or offer straight-ticket voting, including:  Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas (until 2020), and Utah.  In contrast, many other states have limited or abolished straight-ticket voting in recent years.  In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed H.B. 25 amending the state’s Election Code to eliminate straight-party voting effective September 2020.  The statement of intent for H.B. 25 reads as follows:

Straight-party voting takes a voter’s attention away from down-ballot candidates for certain offices that most directly affect the voter.  This practice discourages a voter from researching all the candidates on the ballot.   H.B. 25 addresses this issue by eliminating straight-party voting for candidates in Texas.

The concerns expressed in Texas H.B. 25 were both highlighted and contrasted in the recent federal lawsuit challenging the abolishment of straight-ticket voting in Michigan.  In 2016, Michigan S.B. 13 eliminated straight-ticket voting in the state.  In an open letter to the Michigan Legislature upon signing S.B. 13 into law (2015 Mich. Pub. Acts 268), Governor Lansing described the bill as “one piece of how Michigan can modernize its election process,” because it will “require voters to select an individual for each elective office, rather than simply selecting a political party.”

Nevertheless, opponents of the bill brought a lawsuit seeking an injunction and challenging the constitutionality of SB 13.  After a trial on the merits, the district court issued an Order on August 8, 2018 granting the plaintiff’s request for a permanent injunction. See Michigan State A. Philip Randolph Inst. v. Johnson, 326 F. Supp. 3d 532 (E.D. Mich. 2018). In the Order, the Court issued several findings of fact, including that “[i]n the context of Michigan’s particular election laws, the Court finds that PA 268 will increase wait time for all voters” and “that African-Americans will disproportionally suffer increased wait times” and “abandon their ballots as higher rates than whites[.]”  Id.

However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, granted a stay of the district court’s order pending appeal, finding “very serious problems with both the factual underpinnings and the legal analysis of the district court’s opinion.”  Michigan State A. Philip Randolph Inst. v. Johnson, No. 18-1910, 2018 WL 4214710, at *9 (6th Cir. Sept. 5, 2018).

The conversation in states across the country that have debated straight-ticket voting largely mirrors the arguments put forth in the Michigan case – concerns about long lines and waits impinging on individual rights versus concerns about making informed choices for each candidate instead of simply selecting a political party.  Nevertheless, despite an overall decline in states offering straight-party ballots, the percentage of voters voting straight-ticket as opposed to split-ticket has continued to increase over the past twenty years and, based on some statistics, is at an all-time high.  Therefore, despite legislative attempts to curtail offering straight-ticket ballots, in practice, straight-ticket voting persists and is indicative of the partisan nature of the current political climate.