Straight-ticket voting is over. But the change isn’t partisan.
For every local Democrat who loves it, there is a Republican in western North Carolina who loves it as well. It was a lump of coal in the stocking of any county with a dominant political party, Republican or Democrat. If you believe in partisanship, then it’s surprising the Republican legislature passed it.
It does level the playing field in the effort to combat low-information and ideological voting.
How effective was straight-ticket voting?
Look no further than 2008. No one knew Democrat Ronnie Ansley, who challenged N.C. Secretary of Agriculture Republican Steve Troxler, a popular incumbent who won statewide with 52 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, Ansley beat Troxler in Robeson with 67 percent of the vote.
The straight-ticket vote eliminates thinking, replacing it with ideology, maybe even borderline fraud.
In 2008, 58 percent of Robeson Democrats voted straight ticket compared with only 9 percent of Republicans.
By 2012, things were different. Obama only beat “No Preference” by 2,744 votes in the county Democratic primary out of more than 18,000 voters. This time Robeson wasthe earliest signal Obama would not carry the state. Democrats who don’t perform well in Robeson lose statewide.
The Obama team masterfully utilized straight-ticket voting in the General Election. Obama garnered 24,988 votes in Robeson compared with only half that in the primary. Comparatively, 20,223 Democrats voted straight ticket. The presidential race isn’t affected by straight ticket, but makes a nice statistical control group. So a full 81 percent of Obama’s vote here presumably originated from straight ticket. Insert your own conspiracy theory here.
Robeson is therefore a barometer for the rest of the state. It makes local operatives look like geniuses. But it’s simply because Robeson numbers have stable predictive value in statewide races.
Local GOP operatives have long understood the ratios they could “lose” by in Robeson yet win statewide. It’s the best-kept secrets among GOP operatives, and Robeson has quietly monitored these ratios for years. Local operatives will be watching how much these formulas will be affected by the new law in 2014.
But there’s another shift on the horizon as well — the African-American vote. Herman Cain was expected to pick up 40 perccent of this demographic by some polls. But he was forced out of the race thanks to Democrats who understood Cain’s impact.
Republicans are now heavily courting Dr. Ben Carson for 2016 and for good reason. He is an exceptional candidate. And contrary to Democratic spin, Republicans understand the effect of African-American voter ratios.
Carson represents a good man with conservative and Christian values, which resonant within the African-American community. But the secret is in the number of African-American voters needed to make him president. If a Republican candidate reportedly secures just 15 percent of the African-American vote, Democrats cannot win the election. GOP operative Vernon Robinson is spearheading local efforts for Carson.
The point is that changes are on the horizon in 2014. Despite cries of oppression from Democrats over voter reform, states with similar laws have found no evidence to suport the common claims. The concerns are simply unsubstantiated and in some states these changes actually increased voter participation.
Stripping some ideology from voting, combating the low-information vote and a rise of African-American Republicans is coming this New Year. The disappearance of straight-ticket voting is the least reported reform yet will have the biggest effect on leveling the playing field.
This will worry liberal Democrats in 2014, as it should.
Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.