State should correct straight-ticket fiction

Let's be clear: We don't endorse straight-ticket voting. We think every voter ought to choose the best candidate, regardless of party affiliation.

But we also believe that if a person wishes to vote a straight-party ticket for the Republican or Democratic candidates or any other party on the ballot, that voter ought to be able to do so.

In North Carolina, though, straight-ticket voting is a fiction, not to mention confusing. That's because the 1967 General Assembly, worried about the trend toward Republicans in presidential races, decoupled the presidential race from the straight ticket.

That means that if you support John McCain and the rest of the Republican ballot, you have to cast two separate votes – one for McCain and Sarah Palin, and the other for the rest of the Republican Party's candidates for U.S. Senate, governor and dozens more offices. Same for Democrats: It takes two votes to go straight ticket.

That quirky voting method may have helped keep Democrats in state and local offices, but it may also have meant that the votes of tens of thousands of North Carolinians weren't cast at all in presidential races because voters didn't realize they needed to vote separately for president even if they voted a straight ticket.

Lawrence Norden, director of the Voting Technology Assessment Project at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, believes the confusion about straight-party voting may have a huge effect on the presidential election in North Carolina.

Norden says research shows that no more than about 1 percent of voters choose not to cast ballots for president. But North Carolina's presidential contests have shown far larger disparities. In 2000, more than 3 percent of N.C. voters failed to vote for president; in 2004, more than 2.5 percent failed to mark presidential ballots.

While state elections officials have provided ballot instructions to help voters understand they must always mark the ballot for a presidential candidate, some voters make mistakes. Others have trouble following directions. The General Assembly should change state law and give them a way to cast a real straight-ticket ballot.