Party line votes?
Trump is driving voters to it
If there is a single author of today’s polarized political system, it is probably Newt Gingrich. When he became U.S. House speaker in 1995—the first Republican to hold the job in four decades—he set out to change Congress. And he did, intentionally making it less workable and cooperative. Bipartisanship fell out of fashion. Party loyalty on votes was rigidly enforced. And slowly, the same poison seeped into the Senate.
“His first move was to get rid of the Democratic Study Group, which analyzed bills, and which was so trusted that Republicans as well as Democrats relied on it,” Tennessee Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper recalled to the New York Times. “This was his way of preventing us from knowing what we were voting on. Today, the ignorance around here is staggering. Nobody has any idea what they’re voting on.”
Gingrich scheduled things so members did little work in D.C. and could spend more time in their districts. This prevented them from developing working relationships with members of the opposite party in the capital.
The seniority system was eliminated, and committee chairs and ranking members were designated according to their party loyalty. Partnerships like Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, or even same-state alliances like Harry Reid and John Ensign, became less common. Dean Heller never developed a working relationship with Reid, which would have come in handy to him this year in giving him a less partisan image.
As a result, while the nation was becoming less partisan, Congress became more so.
But a quarter of a century later, the GOP may be paying a price for that polarization. All over the country, people are talking about doing what Congress does—voting a straight party ticket.
Nevada is not one of the states that makes a straight party ticket vote easy, so voters will have to do it line by line.
Straight ticket voting was already becoming more common when Donald Trump came along. As Congress became more polarized, split-ticket voting became less common. While a lot of people say, “I vote for the candidate, not the party,” in fact most people’s votes are determined by party. Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz says that in 1972, when Richard Nixon won reelection by a landslide, split tickets reached an all-time high of people voting one party for president and the other party for U.S. Senate. But even then split tickets accounted for only 28 percent of ballots. By 2012 that figure was down to 10 percent.
But Donald Trump appears to be accelerating that trend with a roar.
In North Carolina, the Greenville Daily Reflector advises, “If you are antagonized by this regime, get out there and vote a straight Democratic ticket these next few times.”
In Radnor, Pennsylvania, when the local school board in a November 2017 election switched from a Republican to a Democratic majority, the Mainline reported, “Many observers said that voters were pulling the lever for the straight Democratic ticket as a protest against President Trump.”
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the West Chester Daily Local News reported “a stunning sweep of county row office races on Election Day, as well as victories in a plethora of down-ballot local contests from mayor to district court judge to township supervisor. … A full 26,717 county residents voted a straight Democratic ticket, almost 2,000 more than Republican party line ballots.”
In Virginia, which also has odd-numbered-year elections, one woman told the Washington Post she had voted “a straight Democratic ticket to ’send a message to Trump’—even though that meant voting against her brother-in-law.” John Jessuph told the Newport News Daily Press, “I don’t like what Trump is trying to do.” So he voted a straight Democratic ticket.
Another Virginian sent a letter to the editor of the New York Times: “I generally vote for any and all Republicans, except Donald Trump. However, on Tuesday I voted a straight Democratic ticket in Virginia.”
In River Falls, Wisconsin, Robert Lillo wrote a letter to the editor of the Journal: “A host of conservative Republicans like me will vote a straight Democratic ticket for a Democratic majority in Congress.”
In a New Jersey Gannett newspaper, husband and wife Peter and Leticia Clough told an interviewer they voted a straight Democratic ticket. Peter: “How do you vote for a party that’s anti-government? What’s the point of that?” Leticia: “The more Democrats in the government, the more likely we’ll finally get some gun control.”
“I used to vote Republican for local candidates and Democratic for national candidates, but not anymore,” Peter said. “I’m tired of dysfunctional government. Now I vote straight Democratic.”
On page 9 of this edition, columnist Sheila Leslie urges straight Democratic Party votes in Nevada.
Nine states make it possible for voters to cast a straight party ticket vote with a single action—a touch or punch or stroke. It was 10 states until last year.
In Texas, where straight party ticket voting has kept Republicans in power for 22 years, the GOP was so freaked out by Democrats doing the same thing that they repealed that option last year. The bill to make the change was referred in the Texas Legislature to the Business Committee. Why? Because the son of the Republican chair of the Business Committee lost his elected judgeship when Hillary Clinton won the district with a lot of straight party votes.
In New Mexico, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said in an Albuquerque Journal essay she will try to accommodate straight ticket voters by reviving a quick method for doing so. Republicans have sworn to stop her.
In the March Atlantic Monthly, editor Jonathan Rauch and contributor Benjamin Wittes urged, “Boycott the Republican Party. … We have both spent our professional careers strenuously avoiding partisanship in our writing and thinking. We have both done work that is, in different ways, ideologically eclectic, and that has—over a long period of time—cast us as not merely nonpartisans but antipartisans. Temperamentally, we agree with the late Christopher Hitchens: Partisanship makes you stupid. We are the kind of voters who political scientists say barely exist—true independents who scour candidates’ records in order to base our votes on individual merit, not party brand. This, then, is the article we thought we would never write: a frank statement that a certain form of partisanship is now a moral necessity. The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy.”