Straight-party vote doesn’t select at-large candidates

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

As the general municipal election nears, election officials want to make sure people are aware that selecting a straight-party vote does not automatically cast votes for at-large candidates.

“At-large council seats are not included in a straight-party ticket vote,” County Clerk Amy Kippenbrock said Wednesday.

So opting to vote straight party does not guarantee that votes are being cast in the at-large council races.

“Voters can choose that straight-party ticket as they want,” Kippenbrock said. “But if they want to vote for an at-large seat, they have to cast a vote for that candidate.”

In the upcoming election, the only contested at-large council race is the for the Huntingburg at-large council seat, which is being sought by Independent incumbent Tim Wehr and Republican challenger Keith “Curly” Souders. The other at-large races on the ballot — in Ferdinand, Holland and Jasper — are not contested.

Historically, straight-party votes did cast votes for all candidates in that political party. But that changed in 2016.

Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, authored the bill, which passed the General Assembly during the 2016 legislative session. Walker said at the time that the goal was to clear up the Indiana Code that caused complications in interpreting ballots that are straight-party votes.

He used if a person chose to vote straight party and then voted for a single at-large candidate as an example. If there are more at-large openings and more party candidates, the voter’s intent could be questioned, Walker explained. The question would be if the voter wanted to vote just for the one candidate or if the voter wanted to select all the party candidates for the at-large positions.

“It seemed like a silly change to make. It defied any logic to me,” State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, said Wednesday. “That’s why I voted against it.”

So far, the change does not seem to have affected voting, he said.

“We had county council at-large races two years ago,” Messmer said, “but it doesn’t appear to have had an affect on those.”

Still, voters may still expect their straight-party selection to count for all the party candidates on the ballot.

“It can be confusing for a voter,” Kippenbrock said. “If I come in and vote straight-party ticket, I would assume that it is going to capture all of those candidates. But that is not the case.”

Kippenbrock said there will be signs at the polling places to remind voters of the need to specifically select at-large candidates. They will be posted for voters to see as they walk in the door, next to where they sign in, and within the confines of the DRE machine walls as they vote. None of the reminders will mention a candidate or a party, Kippenbrock said. And during poll worker training, Kippenbrock will remind workers to help make sure voters understand this point, she said.

As far as possibly changing this state rule, anything is possible at future legislative sessions, Messmer said.

“There’s always an opportunity to bring this back up,” he said, “but probably not until the current chairman of elections committee either quits or moves on.”

That’s because the chairman of the Senate Elections Committee is Walker, the person who wrote and authored the 2016 bill.

Indiana is one of eight states in the United States that has straight-ticket voting as an option for voters.

Indiana’s municipal election is Tuesday, Nov. 5. Early voting begins Tuesday, Oct. 8.




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