What Is Straight-Ticket Voting? 

Straight-ticket voting is a method of voting where voters use a single mark to vote for an entire slate of candidates on a ballot. Voters typically use straight-ticket voting to vote for all the candidates based on a specific political party. This method of voting is not available in all states.

Keep reading to learn about straight-ticket voting, how it's used in the United States, and the pros and cons of voting this way.

Voting Background

In our representative form of government, we use voting to choose leaders to represent us locally and nationally. We also use voting to change the law through ballot proposals.

During most elections, each political party presents a slate of candidates for various governmental roles. We often refer to this slate as a ticket. For example, in a general election, a slate may include party candidates for the following:

  • President (and vice president)
  • Governor (and lieutenant governor)
  • Senators (state and Congress)
  • Representatives (state and Congress)

Before voting, voters can access or download a sample ballot, which names all candidates on each ticket.

Straight-Ticket Voting

Straight-ticket voting (straight-party voting or STV) is a reasonably simple voting method. Instead of casting individual votes for each race, you can vote for a group of candidates all at once.

With straight-ticket voting, a voter can pick every candidate running with a specific party, regardless of the number of other candidates running. Essentially, a voter chooses their entire ballot with a single mark.

For example, a straight-ticket vote for the Democratic Party would mean that with one single mark, a voter has selected every candidate running for office who identifies as a Democrat. Voters can use straight-ticket voting for any official political party, including the Republican Party (GOP) and the Green Party.

History of Straight Ticket Voting

While there are more than two political parties existing today, the Democratic and Republican parties have been dominating elections since the mid-1850s. Straight-ticket voting has been commonly used with these political parties over the years.

Straight-ticket voting was most common in the 1960s and 1970s before we fully transitioned to electronic voting. Election officials gave voters individual ballots with different colors identifying each political party. Getting separate ballots and voting for multiple candidates from multiple parties (split-ticket voting) was a complicated proposition. Today, voters have more choices.

Split-Ticket Voting

There is one big difference between straight-ticket voting and split-ticket voting, which is the number of political parties someone votes for. Here's an example:

  • Straight-Ticket Voting: Voting for the same political party for every open office in a general election
  • Split-Ticket Voting: Voting for different political parties for open offices in a general election

Both straight-ticket and split-ticket voting apply to general elections, whether local or national. These concepts do not apply to primary elections when voters cast votes to indicate their preferred candidate from a political party.

Is Straight-Ticket Voting Legal In All States?

No, not all states offer straight-ticket voting options for voters. States, through their elected secretary of state, administer elections, including presidential elections.

In recent years, Utah and Pennsylvania stopped offering straight-ticket voting options. Today, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), only the following six states allow straight-ticket voting.

  • Alabama
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • Kentucky
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina

Pros and Cons of Straight-Ticket Voting

There's a fair amount of debate over allowing straight-ticket voting across the United States as a voting strategy. Does it help or hurt voters? Does it favor one party or another? Does it discourage voters? Let's walk through some of the pros and cons.

Pros of Straight-Ticket Voting

Some of the pros to straight-ticket voting include:

  • Speed: The voting process is fast, so a time-conscious voter can still make it to the polls.
  • Efficiency: It's easy to get in and out of polling places or stations, encouraging more voters to attend.
  • Accuracy: There is less questioning around the accuracy of selections because the voter uses a single mark.

Cons of Straight-Ticket Voting

Some of the cons to straight-ticket voting include:

  • Lack of Flexibility: Voters need more flexibility to vote across multiple parties. If voters feel uninformed, they cannot choose their preferred candidate.
  • Discouragement: Voters may feel discouraged because of the idea of casting a ballot with a single mark.
  • Allegiance to a Single Party: Straight-ticket voting does not allow voters to identify with multiple political parties.

Critics of STV also argue that the straight-ticket option encourages voters not to research candidates and ballot initiatives.

Get Legal Help

If your state allows straight-ticket voting and you meet the eligibility criteria, you should not have a problem exercising this option. If you face difficulty exercising your right to vote, you should speak to a civil rights attorney. They are experts in civil rights law, including voting rights, and can give you sound advice. Speak to an experienced civil rights attorney today.

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