INDIANAPOLIS – One of the House Republicans’ key priorities is an election bill filed Thursday that would eliminate straight-ticket voting in the general election.
Under current law, voters can automatically choose all Democrat, Republican or Libertarian candidates with one click or mark of the ballot.
But House Bill 1008 would require voters to choose a candidate specifically for each office.
The legislation is being carried by Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, at the request of House GOP leadership.
"As we revolutionize elections and technology continues to creep into the way we campaign and the information available to voters, it’s clear folks are looking at candidates rather than party affiliation," he said. "We don’t put donkeys and elephants on our signs anymore."
Only 12 states allow or offer straight-ticket voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It has been declining in popularity over the past decade.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said both parties at different times have opposed and supported straight-ticket voting.
He conceded that in certain localities, it might be a strategic advantage.
"We think it best that voters are informed and vote for the person and don’t just check a box," Bosma said. "We’ll see. It’ll be a long discussion for both parties in both chambers."
He said some Republican Party county chairs like the proposal and some don’t.
Allen County GOP Chairman Steve Shine is one who is not in favor of the proposal. He said no bureaucrat or elected official should limit the options available for voters.
And Shine said that "in some obscure races, voters might not be familiar with candidates, and the party affiliation gives the voter a general sense of values."
He noted that the Michigan legislature eliminated straight-ticket voting in 2001. However, voters repealed the new law in the 2002 election after the issue was petitioned onto the statewide ballot.
"The citizens need more choices in the voting booth and not less," Shine said. "The elimination of straight-ticket voting could cause congestion at the polling places."
In the 2012 presidential election in Allen County, 22 percent of the votes cast were straight-ticket Republican ballots – or 32,999. Another 17 percent cast straight-ticket Democrat ballots, or 25,062 Hoosiers.
But in Marion County, the number of Democrat straight-ticket ballots almost doubled Republicans in 2012, 136,286 to 71,101.
There is no statewide data because Indiana election law doesn’t require counties to report it. Some keep the information and some do not.
Shine said the change might help Republicans gain inroads in Marion County, but "what’s good for Marion County is not necessarily good for Allen County."
Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, has served on the House Elections Committee for several years and doesn’t remember the topic coming up before.
"I would have to do an analysis," he said. "I’m not sure how it hurts one party or the other."
GiaQuinta did seem supportive of another provision of the bill that would allow a county, with a majority vote of the election board, to switch to using vote centers. Right now, such a change requires a unanimous vote.
In a vote-center county, the traditional model of precinct polling places is not used. Instead, a small number of vote centers are established, and voters can vote from any one they choose.