Critics of the practice argue that it makes it nearly impossible for third-party candidates to gain traction, allows extremists within parties to be elected, and encourages voters to be less informed at the polls. Proponents claim that it saves time at the polls, mitigates the possibility of making an error on the ballot, and decreases rates of voter fatigue (when voters get tired of marking candidates on their ballots and either submit an incomplete ballot or discard their ballot entirely).
This explainer was last updated on September 12, 2022.
Where is straight-ticket voting used?
As of 2022, only seven states use straight-ticket voting: Alabama, Indiana*, Michigan, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Nevada (*Indiana has abolished straight-ticket voting for at-large races). This voting option is popular among voters in the states that provide it. For example, in the 2020 general election, over two-thirds of Alabama voters chose to vote straight-ticket. While most states do not allow the official option of straight-ticket voting, voting for only one party for the major election races up and down the ballot is common across the United States. Survey data suggests the overwhelming majority of voters in the 2020 presidential election voted for the same party in the Presidential, Senate, and House races in their state.
Proponents and detractors
Some voters, political scientists, and pundits worry that straight-ticket voting would reduce turnout in non-partisan elections that are on the ballot, and which are most often for selecting individuals for local positions that receive less attention. Research bears out these worries: Barnes, Tchintian, and Alles (2017) and Bonneau and Loepp (2014) find that in non-partisan elections, the option to vote straight-party decreases voter participation. This is because voters who choose the straight-ticket option “may erroneously believe that they have voted for these non-partisan offices, or simply ignore them.”
Others critical of straight-ticket voting assert that it encourages choosing candidates without taking the time to learn about them or their platforms. According to these detractors, making it easier to rely on party heuristics decreases the likelihood that voters will educate themselves on potential candidates and vote accordingly.
Supporters of straight-ticket voting point to the fact that most Americans already vote for just one party on the ballot. With straight-ticket voting as an option, voters are more likely to choose candidates for all partisan races presented to them, because it only requires one ballot mark.
Engstrom and Roberts (2016) find that straight-ticket voting does encourage fewer half-completed ballots, both in a historical analysis of New York elections and a contemporary analysis of North Carolina. They also report that prior to North Carolina abolishing the ability to vote via straight-ticket in 2016, counties with a higher proportion of Black Americans used the option more frequently than Whiter counties. Therefore, Black Americans (more than White Americans) needed to change their voting behavior to fit the new election regulations.
When Texas abolished straight-ticket voting prior to the 2020 general election, it caused a stir among most Democrats and some Republicans. Democrats believed the change would put an undue burden on voters of color. Legislators also worried about whether the new measure made voting inconvenient: Texas GOP Chair Rick Barnes told the Texas Tribune that despite the new rules, he thinks “there’s still a lot of people who are voting straight ticket, but they’re having to go all the way down the ballot to do it.” A voter from San Antonio reified this assertion when she spoke to Texas Public Radio. Dinah Alcoser, who usually votes straight-ticket for the Democrats, said that after a long wait at the polls, taking extra time filling out each race on the ballot was inconvenient and tiresome.
The ongoing debate on straight ticket voting aside, many states are making moves to ban the practice. In the past five years alone, six states have gotten rid of straight-ticket voting on their ballots: Utah in 2020, Pennsylvania in 2019, Iowa in 2017, Texas in 2017, Michigan in 2016 (though it was reestablished in 2019), and Indiana in 2016.