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Opinion | A shot at ending straight-party voting. Let’s take it

“Stopping straight-party voting is a good start. Let’s see it happen.”

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Straight-party voting has helped Alabama create a lazy electorate. Instead of knowing anything about the candidates, voters just mark the party of their choice one time, and every Republican or Democrat on the slate gets their vote.

But House Democrats, led by state Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, introduced House Bill 397 that would do away with the practice. Elimination of straight-party voting, also known as straight-ticket voting, is long overdue.

Currently, only six states allow straight-ticket voting: Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Carolina. And Indiana doesn’t allow it in statewide elections.

Red and blue states, like Georgia, Texas, Utah, California, New York and Washington have already eliminated the practice. Though this isn’t a Red-Blue issue – Democrats and Republicans use the tool – it might turn into one in Alabama.

As reported by APR’s John H. Glenn, Gray said: “Straight-party ticket voting has always been an issue that citizens have voiced their concerns about. Personally, I feel like a true democracy embodies all citizens, and the straight-party ticket voting is not a representation of that. We leave out those population of people who identify with other parties besides Democrat and Republican Parties.”

Glenn reported that an analysis of the 2020 general election showed 67 percent of Alabama voters chose the straight-party option on their November ballot. So what’s wrong with straight-ticket voting? Almost everything.

There are good Democratic candidates and good Republican candidates. There are also lousy ones. With a straight-party vote, you choose the good and bad in your party. What voters should do – should, I said – is study the candidates and vote informed.

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There is no doubt that former Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones was eminently more qualified than mediocre ex-college football coach Tommy Tuberville for the U.S. Senate. Tuberville has already shown us how little he knows about the government. Tuberville also helped spread Donald Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election, claiming the election was stolen.

There is no evidence of that; indeed, the evidence showed the opposite. But Tuberville ignored the evidence and even tried to get Congress to overturn the results of the election. He also used rhetoric that helped fire up Trump’s base and led to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol building.

That was one of the darkest days in America, and Tuberville was one of the reasons it happened. One of the reasons Tuberville easily defeated Jones in November was straight-party voting. As he did when he defeated former Judge Roy Moore in 2017, Jones needed Republicans to cross over and vote for him. But too many just marked Republican and that was that.

Likewise, here in Jefferson County, generally, a Democratic Party stronghold, good, qualified and experienced Republicans who served on the district and circuit courts were defeated through straight-party voting.

We’ll see what happens with this bill, but Republicans probably are going to oppose it, since straight-ticket voting really helps them in statewide races. We can hope otherwise.

But we do know from what Republicans here and across the nation are planning is to tighten voting rules even more in their effort to continue suppressing minorities and others from voting.

Republicans know the nation’s demographics don’t help them. The last two Republicans who held the presidency got there after losing the popular vote. The demographics aren’t becoming more favorable to the GOP, either, whether it be nationally or in Alabama.

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The Legislature needs to pass HB 397, and it would be great as well if lawmakers would open up Alabama’s restrictive ballot so members of other parties and independents could get a chance to run for office.

Still, stopping straight-party voting is a good start. Let’s see it happen.

Joey Kennedy
Written By

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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