What Is Straight Ticket Voting?
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed March 18, 2020
There are many strategies to use when picking candidates and voting in a general election. With electronic voting, selecting the candidate you want for a specific office is easy. But has it always been this easy? What was voting like when ballots were handed out according to political party affiliation? Keep reading to learn about straight-ticket voting, what it means, whether or not it's still used in the U.S., and the pros and cons to voting this way.
What Is the Definition of Straight-Ticket Voting and Who Votes This Way?
Straight ticket voting (also called straight-party voting or STV) is a fairly simple voting method. It is when a voter chooses every candidate running for a specific party in a general election. With straight-ticket voting, a voter gets the option to 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 in one single mark, a voter has selected every single candidate running for office who identifies as democratic. Straight-ticket voting is used for any official political party.
So, who typically votes this way? Individuals who are partisan (or strongly focused/committed to a specific political party) and those who identify by party and not by topic and/or candidate.
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 they were established in the mid-1850s. Straight ticket voting has been most commonly used with the two dominating parties over the years.
When was straight-ticket voting most prominent? It's been used for quite some time but was most common in the 1960s and 1970s. This was before electronic voting. Voters were given individual ballots with different colors identifying each political party. The idea of voting for multiple candidates from multiple parties (called split-ticket voting) and getting two separate ballots was extremely complicated, if not impossible.
Straight Ticket Voting v. 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.
The ideas of both straight-ticket voting and split-ticket voting apply to the general elections, meaning regular elections where the president, vice president, and members of the legislature will be elected. General elections can be either local or national. This does not apply to primary elections, which is when voters cast votes to indicate their preferred candidate in a party (versus their preferred party).
Is Straight-Ticket Voting Allowed in All States?
It seems like a simple concept, but is it allowed in all states? No, it's not. And over the past few decades, many states have worked to eliminate straight-ticket voting. Many bills have been introduced (and passed) eliminating the option for straight-ticket voting.
Now, it's only allowed in a select number of states, which include:
- South Carolina
Pros and Cons of Straight-Ticket Voting
Regardless of political party or affiliation, there are varying ideas about the benefits and drawbacks to straight-ticket voting. This includes discussion about whether or not it should be allowed across the U.S. at all as a voting strategy. Does it help voters? Does it favor one party or another? Does it discourage voters? Let's walk through some of the pros and cons.
Pros to Straight-Ticket Voting
Some of the pros to straight-ticket voting include:
- Speed: The voting process is fast, so a voter with little time to spare can still make it to the polls.
- Efficiency: It's easy to get in and out of polling locations, which encourages more voters to attend. This includes specific groups like the elderly and people with disabilities.
- Accuracy: There is less questioning around the accuracy of selections because a ballot is completed with a single mark.
Cons to Straight-Ticket Voting
Some of the cons to straight-ticket voting include:
- Lack of flexibility: Voters do not have the flexibility to vote across multiple parties. If a voter feels uninformed, they cannot choose the candidate they'd like.
- 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.
What If I Live in a State Where Straight-Ticket Voting Is Allowed?
Even if you live in one of the states that still have straight-ticket voting, it does not mean that you need to vote that way. Straight ticket voting is simply an option, not a requirement. If you have questions, get in touch with your local polling spot to learn more about your options and where to vote on Election Day.
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