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Updated: Straight-ticket voting applauded, panned at House hearing

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 15. 2013 11:36AM

CONCORD— Advocates of a return to straight party ticket voting, abandoned by the state in 2007, made their pitch before the state House Committee on Election Law Tuesday.

The measure would let voters cast a ballot for every candidate of a particular party in a general election with a single check. They could also vote for each office individually. Some saw it as a convenience for voters; others as an unnecessarily confusing complication to voting. Still others debated the place of straight-ticket voting in modern politics.

"It is just a simplicity, a non-partisan partisan measure," said Rep. Fred Rice, R-Hampton, a co-sponsor. "A number of voters go in and say 'I know in advance that I want to vote for all one party or another;' for them it is a convenience."

Rice and another of the bill's four co-sponsors, Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack, said the bill would reduce lines at polling places, such as the lines said to have delayed the counting of ballots in many Granite State communities. 
The measure was opposed at Tuesday's committee meeting by some lawmakers who saw it as creating confusion for voters casting ballots in state representative districts, in which more than one candidate is elected.

Supporters said the bill's language provides that if a voter casts a straight-ticket vote, but then casts a ballot for a member of the opposite party, the vote next to the individual candidate of a particular party prevails.

Straight party ticket voting is allowed in 15 states, according to material from the National Conference of State Legislatures. One of the straight party ticket states, New Mexico, leaves it up to the discretion of its secretary of state, who broke with tradition in 2012 by not offering straight ticket balloting in the presidential election.

In New England, only Rhode Island allows the straight party line vote, and like the proposed New Hampshire legislation, it is only offered in general elections and not in primaries. Some states allow voting for an entire slate of party convention nominated candidates with a single swipe in a primary.

In addition to complaints that straight ticket balloting would be confusing or could potentially allow members of one party to manipulate the process to gain a nominations in each party, political implications were never far from the minds of the elected officials who argued the measure.

Rep. Ruth Gage, D-Goffstown, a committee member, said she was been a political victim of straight party ticket prior to its repeal five years ago.

"Straight ticket votes were enough so that I was voted out before they even started counting the split tickets," Gage said. "I would get calls saying 'what happened you didn't win' and I said 'you voted a straight ticket, didn't you.'"

The bill was opposed on philosophical grounds by Rep. Peter Schmidt, D-Dover, who said arguments about making voting faster are not persuasive.

"Convenience of the voters as a determining factor is not a useful factor to override what should be a careful selection," Schmidt said. "It is irresponsible for voters to just give a vote to his or her party's candidate without knowing anything about that candidate."

As for the suggestion straight-party-ticket voting would speed the rate at which votes are cast, Schmidt argued that anyone inclined to vote a straight party ticket could easily breeze through the ballot in a minute or so.

"One of the reasons for straight ticket voting in the beginning was because many people were illiterate in the old days and couldn't read the names of candidates," Schmidt said. "They recognized the symbol of their party."

Bill sponsor Rice recalled his father's three word slogan while serving as longtime Republican Town Committee chairman in Hampton decades ago. "Vote straight Republican," was the elder Rice's slogan, and his son said there is still some merit to the idea of voting along party lines.

"If the person at the top of the ticket is someone you support, and you like their ideas, their principles, their approach everything about them, why in the world would you ever vote for someone down the line that is against that," Rice said, recalling his father's stance on the issue.

In addition to Rice and Notter, the straight party ticket election bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Donald LeBrun, R-Nashua and Lenette Peterson, R-Merrimack.

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