Straight-Ticket Voting

Ticket splitting, it appears, is dying a slower death here

By Kellyn Brown

A lot has been made over the last few weeks about the death of ticket splitting — that is, voting for candidates from different parties on the same ballot. Nationwide, it appears fewer Americans are willing to look past the Republican or Democratic label. If they voted for one, they tended to vote for all of them.

The last election “saw the largest wave of straight-ticket results for president and Senate since the ratification of the 17th Amendment established popular election of senators across the country in 1913,” according to the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

How well did Republicans do in states where President-elect Donald Trump won? They won all of them. Democrats in states where Hillary Clinton won? They were a perfect 100 percent. The closest state to split its presidential and Senate vote was New Hampshire, where Hillary Clinton won and Democratic Sen.-elect Maggie Hassan edged incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte by about 1,000 votes, or less than 0.2 percent.

Polarization is often blamed for the trend toward more straight-ticket ballots. In the 1980s, about half of states split tickets between their senators and presidential candidate preference. But there are larger factors at work here, especially in regard to smaller, local races.

Several states — including swing states Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania —allow voters to choose the full slate of a political party’s nominees with a single mark on a ballot.

In previous years, Republicans have opposed this voting method, and the GOP-led Michigan state Legislature voted to eliminate it in their state last year. In an odd twist, a judge reinstated straight-ticket voting for the recent election, and the party opposed to the move likely benefited from it.

“The Republicans (repealed) straight-ticket voting, the Democrats fought it and got it held, and then we ended up being the benefactors of straight-ticket voting,” Michigan Republican state Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons told the Detroit News following the election.

Trump over-performed in Michigan and, combined with the straight-ticket option, down-ballot Republicans benefited and edged out Dems in county races that were determined by the narrowest of margins.

Many states have begun to abolish straight-ticket voting — most recently, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Critics say eliminating the option can lead to longer lines at the ballot box, but it also addresses a glaring issue with marking one box to vote along party lines; many races, such as those for state supreme courts, are nonpartisan, and ballot initiatives are equally neglected.

Whether it continues, Montana is somewhat of an anomaly. After the 2012 election, in which Democratic Sen. Jon Tester was reelected and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney overwhelmingly won the state, The Smart Politics blog found that in 10 elections when a senator and president were on the ballot, we split tickets more than 50 percent of the time.

There was no U.S. senator on our ballots this year, although there was evidence of ticket splitting. While Republicans increased their margins in the state Legislature and nabbed four statewide races, including attorney general and secretary of state, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock was reelected by 4 percentage points. Bullock received about 256,000 votes compared to roughly 236,000 for Republican candidate Greg Gianforte. Meanwhile, Trump rolled to victory in the state with about 280,000 votes.

Ticket splitting, it appears, is dying a slower death here.

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