Bill to abolish straight-ticket voting advances in Iowa House

ED TIBBETTS Quad-City Times | Posted: Sunday, February 3, 2013 3:00 pm

DAVENPORT, Iowa | It hasn’t gotten a lot of buzz yet, but a proposal in the Iowa House could change how a large chunk of Iowa voters cast their ballots.

Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, has proposed doing away with most straight-ticket voting, the practice of voting once for all the people of a particular party on the ballot. The bill cleared a subcommittee last week, and it’s scheduled to come up this week in the House State Government Committee.

Cownie said there’s too much partisanship, and it’s not too much to ask people to know who they’re voting for.

“I think an educated voter is a better voter, and this will help them do that,” he said.

Critics of the plan say it would take away a popular way to vote.

“It’s a choice. Nobody requires you to vote straight ticket,” Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, who opposes the measure, said. “I think it’s unfortunate we would take that away from people.”

The bill is but the latest in a string of proposals to tinker with the mechanics of elections. Secretary of State Matt Schultz has pushed for years to require photo identification at the ballot box. Democrats have argued against that proposal, while Republicans have supported it.

In this case, Cownie said he doesn’t know which party will benefit. Democrats, including Winckler, say the same.

Still, state data show that it’s Democrats who have been getting the most straight-ticket votes, particularly in urban areas.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office says it didn’t collect data for straight-ticket voting in 2012. But a Quad-City Times survey of the 65 counties that reported countywide votes in 2008 showed Democrats got 202,218 straight-ticket votes, while Republicans got 141,471.

Of the 65 counties, Democrats had the edge in 35, Republicans in 30.

Iowa is one of 15 states that permit straight-ticket voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Mexico offered it for years, but last fall, its top elections official, a Republican, stopped the practice for the 2012 election. Now, Democratic legislators are trying to reinstate it.

The trend in the past several years has been away from straight-ticket voting. Two states ended it in 2006 and 2007. Wisconsin did so in 2011. Illinois ended straight-ticket voting in 1997 after a partisan fight.

Five states, including Iowa, have bills to eliminate straight-ticket voting this year, according to the conference of state legislatures. Indiana, Rhode Island, Texas and Utah are the others. A Utah committee voted down the proposal Wednesday. There, a Democrat had proposed eliminating it, while Republicans opposed it.