INDIANAPOLIS – Legislators delved into a new issue Wednesday – whether to take away voters’ option to cast ballots for all candidates of a political party with the push of one button or one bubble.
So-called straight-ticket voting has been around for decades but is slowly being repealed in many states. In fact, Indiana is one of only 11 states that allow straight-ticket voting after Rhode Island became the latest to eliminate the option.
The alternative is that a voter looks at each individual office and chooses from there. Ballots show a party identifier for all candidates, so voters could still choose only candidates from one party.
"We’re not disenfranchising anyone," said Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, author of House Bill 1008 heard by the House Elections Committee on Wednesday.
"It’s a difference in philosophy," Ober said. "Do you think people vote for candidates or parties?"
Often in the legislature, topics come up again and again every year, but this issue was a new one to be weighed, and the discussion was genuine and thoughtful. The committee chairman held the bill for possible changes and a vote next week.
Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, pointed out that the states that got rid of straight-ticket voting are diverse – some liberal, some conservative, some urban, some rural. And it doesn’t seem to definitively help one party over another.
But Democrats on the panel had concerns about whether it would increase the time it takes to vote, leading to longer lines at the polls. In general, several members didn’t like taking away an option that many voters seem to like.
"Personally, I just don’t see the need for this," said Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis.
Not all counties report straight-ticket voting data, but Ober handed out information showing five counties had more than 50 percent of their voters cast straight-ticket ballots in 2014. Allen County was not one of those. Its percentage fell between 30 percent and 39 percent.
Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, pointed out the elephant in the room: that Marion County, which is decidedly Democrat, had the most usage at more than 60â ¯percent. He wondered whether the bill is an effort to help elect a Republican mayor there.
Ober said that assumes those voters will no longer vote for Democrats, which he doesn’t believe.
Bartlett said older voters don’t use websites and social media to learn about candidates, and they might be discouraged from voting.
But Rep. Lloyd Arnold, R-Leavenworth, said there are town halls, fairs, parades and home visits in which voters can learn about candidates. But they have to do some work.
"I would rather have informed voters than just voters," he said.
Several county clerks testified – some in support of the provision and some against.
The bill also contains vote center language and a change to the date by which candidates must withdraw from the ballot if they choose not to run.