If you want some indication of what sort of folks vote straight ticket, consider the occasional phone calls received by the local elections office and this newspaper from individuals inquiring how they can vote straight ticket in primary elections. It’s enough to make one wish voters had to pass some kind of IQ test before being permitted to cast ballots.
Some people say they vote straight ticket because they subscribe to a political party’s principles, that even a poor candidate of their party is preferable to anyone from the other party. More likely: Voting straight ticket conveniently excuses one from having to fulfill his or her duty as a citizen and study the issues and scrutinize candidates, which takes time and effort. I have followed politics closely since 1972 and have yet to see a party ticket of candidates, Democrat or Republican, that didn’t include some stinkers.
The issue rates reflection in the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, given nearly half of McLennan County voters voted straight ticket and two-thirds of those voted Republican, in the process helping elect as our state’s top law enforcement officer a legislator who this year admitted to violating state securities law (and reportedly for nice commissions) and may well face indictment. So much for the Republican brand.
Such indiscriminate if not lazy exercising of our sacred right to vote in this Republican-leaning county also helped eject from the local office of district clerk a seasoned 62-year-old woman who is a graduate of Baylor Law School, a former prosecutor, a civic leader long involved with a wide range of community groups and activities — one obviously more than capable of dealing unerringly with attorneys and district judges. She also is a Democrat. Oops.
So who did the straight-ticket crowd give us? An amiable 38-year-old Republican, grandson of a famous country fiddler, who is still studying to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Pursuing an education is nothing to ridicule. Such effort rates admiration. But by any standard, such an individual is hardly qualified to serve as district clerk, managing hundreds of thousands of legal files and the collection of some $2.5 million a year in filing fees and other costs. Oops.
While party hacks naturally extoll the virtues of straight-ticket voting, even elected state leaders question it. One by one, states are abolishing it, most recently North Carolina; only 14 still permit it. State Sen. Dan Patrick, stalwart conservative and our next lieutenant governor, has fought to eliminate this when it comes to judicial candidates. And state Rep. Dan Branch, a Dallas Republican, has pressed legislation scrapping any method that allows voters to choose a party’s entire slate of candidates with just a single ballot marking. His stated aim: protecting democracy from plain voter laziness.
“If a citizen wants to vote for a straight-party ticket, I’m all for that,” Branch told me. “To me that’s their right. I just want them to do it on their own without just sort of hitting one button. I think there’s sort of a social compact that when one citizen puts his name out there to run for the local judge’s office, another citizen should at least consider his candidacy and shouldn’t have a machine just sort of blithely go by and machine-gun down the ballot to make that decision.”
Before the election, District Clerk Karen Matkin acknowledged her party affiliation and financial support of Democratic candidates made her a target for re-election: “Some people want to make it about politics as opposed to qualifications and I think for obvious reasons. They don’t have the ability to attack me for what we do in the district clerk’s office so they choose other ways to attack me and that comes back to politics.”
The tragedy is 14,366 county residents in this year’s general election didn’t even give it that much thought. They simply voted straight-ticket Republican and walked away, their duty to party done, country be damned.