Scott Johnson: Straight-ticket voting is a disservice to local races

Scott Johnson

Alabama is only one of seven states which still offers straight-ticket voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
You can anticipate seeing two initial boxes titled, “Straight Party Voting” on your ballot when you vote on Nov. 6. There will be two choices: Alabama Democratic Party and Alabama Republican Party.
This is a “convenience” for party-strong voters to fill in one bubble on the general election ballot and automatically vote one direction on all applicable races. (Some races are unopposed or have only Independent opposition.)
Since 1994, 14 states have abolished the practice. Other states which still provide the straight-ticket include Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Utah.
I would like to see Alabama be the next state to desert this as it is a blatant disservice to our state and counties.
This one-and-done voting makes some sense when determining a vote for  presidential, gubernatorial and congressional races.
Depending on the party, we can generally determine where candidates fall on important issues.
However, the more local the politics, the less and less issues can be divided between Republican and Democrat. Party allegiances don’t account for much when it comes to a sheriff’s office, judge position and commissioner. Experience, vision and ability speak louder in positions like these, in my opinion.
In fact, I think it would be great if county candidates, just like local city council and mayoral races, weren’t aligned with political parties altogether. However, I am open to hear arguments to the contrary. Call me!
The political pendulum has shifted over the last decade, with Republican red wave gaining much traction in Marion County. Now, the majority of the local races are championed with no Democratic opposition.
This has happened not only with voters, but candidates as well. County sheriff Kevin Williams, revenue commissioner Barabara Cooper and Bob Burleson switched sides of the aisle in 2017.
Democratic turncoats (none I have just mentioned above) have told me they attribute this to Obama and the Clintons. Whatever the reason, the fact still stands: This county is red.
 Marion and Winston counties were even found to have some of the most Republican and Trump-supportive concentrations during the 2016 presidential election.
Further, for the first time in recallable history, there is a chance we could have a full table of Republican county commissioners.
On the local level at least, if you can secure a party’s nomination, there is a chance you can cruise your way through the general election like a Remora on a shark.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of our current public officials were only elected because they rode the red wave and picked up substantial support from Republican straight-party votes.
The Republican Party undoubtedly benefits greater through the practice right now.
A certain party’s candidate may not be the strongest choice, but they sure did line up with the right folks, so now we’re stuck with them for at least a term.
According to, in Alabama’s last two general elections with a race for governor on the ballot, almost half of the voters who participated did so with a straight-ticket vote.
During the 2016 presidential election, 5,677 Marion County voters filled straight-ticket circles—43 percent of all participants.
I would hope that with the six combined local races including either an Independent and a Democratic candidate, that our straight-ticket participation drops.
This is not a knock on the Republican Party and its candidates—it’s just principle.
Looking toward Nov. 6, first, I would urge voters to not slump to this thoughtless, broad-stroke voting method and, especially considering our county candidates—Republican, Democratic or Independent—come to the polls ready to make   an informed decision about each individual race. Vote for the strongest candidate, not necessarily the better party.
Second, I would like to appeal to our legislative candidates to sponsor and support state legislation to see the process removed—even if it is a driving advantage for your particular party.
This may take time to implement. The State of Texas voted to eliminate the practice in 2017. However, the change will not take effect until 2020.
There may be some wiggle-room here, too. A lot could improve if the Legislature simply removed straight-ticket options for county races and continued them for state-level races, if that made them feel better.
Rolling back this practice isa  subtle but important issue and I hope that momentum can form to turn the tables.

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