Local Politics

Straight-ticket voting shortest path to Dem victory

Posted November 5, 2008 5:35 p.m. EST
Updated November 5, 2008 7:46 p.m. EST

— More than 2.1 million North Carolina voters – almost half of the 4.2 million who cast ballots – voted a straight-party ticket Tuesday, and observers said the move likely carried some Democratic candidates to victory.

North Carolina is one of 15 states that allow straight-party voting, and almost 59 percent of the straight-ticket voters backed Democratic candidates Tuesday, meaning those candidates got 398,388 more votes than their Republican opponents.

"I voted straight-party mainly because to make a departure from where we've been going," voter Malcum Wilson said.

State officials said about 20 percent more people voted straight-party Tuesday than in 2004.

The large number of first-time voters likely contributed to the spike in straight-party voting, Duke University political science professor David Rohde said. Many of them were drawn to the election by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and likely picked the party for the other races, he said.

Like Obama, Democrats Kay Hagan and Beverly Perdue won their respective U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.

"The top offices – president, senator, governor – went out of their way to tie themselves together," Rohde said. "I really think that Bev Perdue won because of that connection and the straight-ticket voting that it stimulated."

Seven of the other states that allow straight-party voting backed Obama for president, including battleground states like Pennsylvania and Indiana. The other seven backed Republican John McCain for president, but he was expected to win all seven.

Republicans blamed straight-ticket voters for defeating some of their candidates in elections down the ballot from the top races.

Democrats picked up almost 82 percent of the straight-party votes cast in Durham County and almost 77 percent of those cast in Orange County. In Wake County, three-fifths of the straight-party ballots went to the Democrats, but Republicans picked up 52 percent of the straight-party ballots in Johnston County.

"This was a significant blow to our down-the-ballot candidates who performed strongly but were not able to overcome the strong performance from the top of the Democrat ticket," said Brent Woodcox, spokesman for the state Republican Party. "The irony is that Democrats control nearly every area of state government. While their candidates ran on a message of change, state government remains largely the same."

Given the straight-ticket voters, Woodcox said, the GOP was pleased that it was able to pick up one state Senate seat and not lose any ground in the state House.

Some lawmakers tried in 1995 to end straight-ticket voting for major races, but the measure died in committee.

With Democrats controlling the General Assembly, Rohde said similar measures would likely fail if introduced in next year's session.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Republicans call for an end to straight-ticket voting, and I'm absolutely certain that the Democrats aren't going to be sympathetic to the idea," he said.