While the primary focus of Oklahomans For Ballot Access Reform has been on Oklahoma’s draconian restrictions of the formation of new parties, that is far from the only thing wrong with Oklahoma election law. There are a number of things including our primary run-off system as well as the focus of this article, Straight Party Voting. Straight Party Voting is a system in which a voter selects a party of preference rather than voting on specific candidates. This party choice is reflected on all partisan elections on the ballot. This means that if a voter chooses the Democratic Party option on the ballot, that choice is reflected on all partisan races as if she had voted for the Democratic candidates in those races.
There are two major flaws with this voting device. The first being that Independent candidates are not represented in this system. The second being that not all races have a candidate from all qualified parties.
For example, take a look at this Congressional race from 2012. In this race, we had a Democratic candidate Donna Bebo, the Republican candidate Tom Cole, and Independent candidate RJ Harris. In this case, the voter chose the Independent Candidate. However, that candidate’s party title, Independent, is not reflected on the Straight Party line. This device has the effect of confusing the ballot convincing voters that no candidates other than the Republican and Democratic candiates are running, if those voters are not fully engaged in the election process.
But that is not the only problem with this device. Imagine if you will that an office does not have a candidate running from one of the parties represented by the straight party device. Consider if the above race was lacking a Republican option. What happens to all those voters who select the Republican option in the Straight Party device? It is as if those voters chose to not vote at all in that race. This scenario has the negative affect of denying the opportunity for the often Independent Candidate to even capture some of those votes.
As an example, in 2010 I ran for State House as an Independent candidate against the Republican candidate Scott Martin. There was no Democratic candidate in the running. When it came time to vote, there were many people who voted Straight Party Democratic rather than vote in the actual race. While I got 19.7% of the votes counted, imagine how much higher that might have been had there been no Straight Party device and those voters had to actually choose a person rather than a party.
These two issues are damaging to Independent candidates and their supporters. This device treats those candidates as if they do not exist and lead to voters not taking the time to consider the candidates themselves. While making it easier to form a new party in Oklahoma might alleviate some of the issues related to this device, it will never eliminate all of them. Even with a reduced burden in forming a new party, some candidates may continue to wish to be unaffiliated. By remaining Independent, they will continue to be ignored and marginalized by the Straight Party device, no matter how many parties large and small are listed. This device needs to be removed from our ballots entirely.