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.