Straight Ticket Voting

The United States Supreme Court has declined to hear Michigan Attorney General Bill Schutte’s  appeal in the case of straight-ticket voting. This means we will definitely have straight ticket voting in November. It is very worthwhile discussing how the straight-ticket device works, because most voters do not understand it correctly.

In Michigan, straight ticket voting is like ordering the daily lunch special in a restaurant. Let’s say you generally like meatloaf served with mashed potatoes, gravy and corn, so you order the lunch special.

You don’t have to eat just exactly what is served to you. You may want to add a little salt, a little pepper, maybe even some ketchup. You may want to add a side of cole slaw, and you might not want to eat all of the corn and mashed potatoes in order to save some room for pecan pie. You can do all that, even though none of the extras are included in the lunch special.

Just because you marked the top of your ballot for, say, the Green Party does not mean you are compelled to vote only for Green Party candidates anywhere on the ballot. You may want to vote for a Democrat for Congress and a Libertarian for State Representative, for instance. Go ahead. Mark your ballot for the Democrat and the Libertarian for those two offices.

You do not invalidate your earlier straight ticket for the Green Party. Your vote will still be counted for Green Party candidates everywhere except the two places you specifically voted otherwise. Your vote for the Democrat will be counted for Congress and your vote for the Libertarian will be counted for State Representative, even if there were Greens running for each of those offices.

In other words, straight ticket voting is just a device to save you some time in the voting booth, if you care to use it. If you are fine voting for Greens (or Republicans, or Democrats, or Libertarians) for President and for most of the offices lower on the ballot, then go ahead and vote straight ticket. It will save you some time.

Then if there are some specific contests where you want to vote for someone not a candidate of your generally preferred party – well, you’ll have to take the time to mark your ballot in those specific races. You won’t get every second of the possible time savings, but you will get to vote for exactly who you want to vote for all the way to the bottom of the ballot.

You can vote a straight Democratic ticket and still vote for some Greens for University boards. You can vote a straight Republican ticket and still vote for some libertarians for university boards. Of course, we would prefer that you vote a straight Green party ticket and then vote for someone else in races that do not have a Green candidate on the ballot. But it is your ballot, and you can vote for whoever you want, anywhere on the ballot, whether you have used the straight ticket voting device or not.

In other words, you can vote a straight ticket, and then split your vote anywhere you want on your ballot. It’s a little counter-intuitive, but those are the rules. That’s the way our election laws are written. Some otherwise well-educated people don’t believe it, but this is the way it works.

Let’s not forget – there are some non-partisan candidates and non-partisan issues on the ballot. if you want your vote to count on these, you have to vote on them one by one, regardless. Straight ticket voting only counts for partisan races, and not for the non-partisan ones.

Oh, yes, there is one other thing. In Michigan, October 11 is the last day you can register to vote in the November election. If you haven’t taken care of that yet, you still have some time, but you should do it soon.

Revised 9-10-2016, following Supreme Court decision.

This article is available for download as a one-page printable pdf file.

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