Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Went Digging for the Truth and I Struck a Nerve

This morning's edition of the Indy Star contains the following "rebuttal" to my op-ed piece of Dec 5, which was posted to this blog as well.

Setting some facts straight about parties and voting

I take issue with Ed Angleton's Dec. 5 My View on two counts; his claim that the lesser-qualified candidate was elected Marion County surveyor in November and that straight-ticket voting hurts third-party candidates.
Angleton describes Surveyor -elect Debra Jenkins as an "executive assistant" in the office of the Marion County recorder when in fact she is that office's chief deputy and previously served as office manager.
Jenkins campaigned strenuously for an office that few pay attention to. She communicated a well-thought-out plan for bringing smarter, cheaper government to Marion County at public events throughout the county. In the end, though, she was elected because there are more Democrats in Marion County than Republicans. Of those who did not vote a straight ticket in November, Jenkins still won handily with 56 percent of the vote.
The election figures from Marion County show that, in down ticket races such as coroner and surveyor, Democrats vote for Democrats and Republicans vote for Republicans whether they vote a straight ticket or not. It is unrealistic to imagine that voters are going to spend time researching these races when there are many more important races to consider.
The figures can also be used to make an argument that straight-party voting actually helps third-party candidates. Third-party presidential candidate Bob Barr received a higher percent of his vote total in Marion County from straight-ticket voting than did either John McCain or Barack Obama. Taking away the option of straight-ticket voting would only inconvenience voters and would make no real difference.
Angleton's real beef seems to be with party affiliation rather than straight-ticket voting, and it seems to have a faint odor of sour grapes about it.
Martin Mahern

Let us examine the facts you’re setting “straight”.

1. According to the County Employee database Ms. Jenkins title is “Executive Assistant”.

2. A careful reading of the duties of the County Surveyor would seem to indicate that someone with a background in engineering would be more qualified.

3. The statement that down ticket races are not important enough for voters to research is more than a little condescending. Let’s take the Coroner’s office. When candidates are elected solely on the basis of party affiliation we end up with unqualified office holders, scandal and costly legal judgments. There are NO unimportant races.

4. Perhaps, I was amiss in using results of the Surveyor’s and Coroner’s races as my examples. An examination of the Attorney General’s (AG) race shows the effect much more clearly. In Marion County the Democrat (D) received 160318 votes. The Republican (R) received 152917. Of the 369009 total votes cast for AG, the D got 59%, with 41% for the R. There were 134575 straight ticket votes for the D party, 78480 for the R party. If we subtract the straight ticket votes from the candidate’s totals, we have 81517 for the D and 74437 for the R, or 51% to 49%. The percentage HAS changed indicating a discernable effect due to straight ticket voting.

5. If we look at the Governor’s race we can dispel some of the author’s other arguments. 377648 votes were cast for Gov in Marion County. Conducting a similar analysis as was done for AG, we see that with straight ticket voting the D received 42%, the R 56% and the Libertarian (L) 2%. Subtracting the straight ticket votes the percentages become D 16%, R 81% and L 3%. Did straight ticket voting have a significant impact on the two major parties? Yes. On the third party? No. Using the Bob Barr example is also somewhat disingenuous as Mr. Barr never campaigned in Marion Co., whereas the other two Presidential candidates did.

If straight ticket voting is so important to preserve, why have 34 states done away with it?

As for "the faint odor of sour grapes" remark, there's nothing like a good old fashioned ad hominem attack to finish off what should have been a reasoned and fact based rebuttal.
Ed Angleton

Monday, December 1, 2008

Can There Be True Democracy With Straight-Ticket Voting?

This past election demonstrated the willingness of Hoosier voters to vote a “split ticket”. While Barack Obama, the Democratic Party candidate, was able to narrowly carry the State of Indiana in the Presidential Race, Mitch Daniels, the incumbent Republican Governor, was able to win re-election by a wide margin. However, upon closer inspection the “down-ticket” contests were more dependent upon the coat-tails of a strong top of ticket candidate. The narrow victory of Greg Zoeller over Linda Pence was, in all likely-hood, strongly influenced by straight-ticket voting, else one would have expected a larger margin of victory.

Closer to home, we can look at the influence straight-ticket voting may have had on two county races; Coroner and Surveyor. In the Coroner’s race the most capable and qualified candidate in Marion County, and perhaps the entire state, was defeated. Dr John Pless, a forensic pathologist who has trained many of the forensic pathologists in the state including his victorious challenger, was defeated not on the basis of ability or qualification, but by a system that rewards candidates simply by party affiliation. Dr. Pless ran as a Republican and there is little doubt that had he run as a Democrat he would have been elected. Erica Pugh, a transportation engineer, was defeated by Debra Jenkins, an executive assistant in the Recorder’s Office. Again the candidate with the lesser qualifications was elected.

The effects of straight-ticket voting are even more apparent when third party and independent candidates are involved. These candidates, even if well qualified, must battle the lack of party name recognition and the financial resources necessary to combat this. Voters are in essence consumers and attracted to “brands” that they know. Combating this requires large sums of money that is often beyond the means of the smaller third parties. What we end up with is a “democracy of dollars” that is reinforced by straight-ticket voting which marginalizes and partially “disenfranchises” voters and candidates.

We must begin to seriously consider ending straight-ticket voting in Indiana. Thirty-four other states have already done this. It is time we made it thirty-five.