Straight-ticket voting change could surprise voters

For faithful Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians in Indiana, voting on Election Day is simple. Walk into the booth and check one box to select every candidate from their party.

But beginning this election, the straight-ticket option will not include all partisan races.

In an effort to clear up confusion, the legislature passed a law earlier this year that requires voters to select each candidate they wish for at-large county council and town council seats. The law does not change how the straight-party ticket functions in any other ballot race.

Previously, some voters did not follow ballot instructions when straight-ticket voting. Some counties reported ballots where voters selected straight-ticket and then also marked additional at-large candidates.

“Voter intent was very ambiguous,” said Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who is Indiana’s chief election official.

Now, at-large races are treated similarly to the nonpartisan school board races, retention questions for judges and public questions, where voters have always had to individually fill in their ballot after straight-ticket voting.

That has some candidates worried over whether the change will affect their race.

“It’s going to add to confusion, without a doubt,” said Eric Tippmann, a Republican running for an Allen County Council at-large seat.

Tippmann is working to educate voters with a mailer describing the new law. Election officials are reaching out to radio stations, TV stations and newspapers to help inform voters before heading to the polls.

Despite efforts to prepare voters before they arrive at the polls, election officials recognize they’re facing a challenge.

“Most voters probably will not have heard about it beforehand no matter how hard we try to get the word out,” said Kathy Richardson, Hamilton County election administrator.

County clerks are posting signs at voting locations, adding instructions on the voting machines and asking poll workers to verbally inform voters. Absentee ballots also included a notice of the change.

“I think the biggest concern is that we might possibly see a lower vote number cast for those candidates in those at-large races,” Lawson said. “I think it’s just like anything else it’s going to take time for people to get used to it.”

But Tippman still fears that won’t be enough for this election.

“It’s hard to imagine that people with decades-old voting habits are going to change,” he said.

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