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Editorial: Straight-ticket voting is still a bad idea

You know what was a terrible idea? Straight-ticket voting.

You know what was a great idea? The successful effort in 2007 to repeal straight-ticket voting.

You know what’s a terrible idea? The 2013 effort to bring back straight-ticket voting.

Every session of the New Hampshire Legislature brings some oldies but goodies. Some fights are worth fighting over and over again. This one surely isn’t.

Straight-ticket voting is the provision, eliminated in New Hampshire six years back, that allows residents to breeze into the voting booth, put a check next to the “Republican” or “Democratic” box and breeze back out – never studying the ballot, never considering the relative merits of the candidates.

In the old days, when the Republican Party ruled these parts, straight-ticket voting was largely a boon to the GOP. Legislation to bring it back is sponsored by three Republican lawmakers, though it’s not particularly clear that Republicans would still be the beneficiaries. In communities like Concord, after all, there might be more Democratic straight-ticket voters that Republicans, judging by the recent election results. We’ll leave that sort of partisan analysis aside, though, and ask legislators to consider a half-dozen reasons to quickly stop this bad bill:

∎ Straight-ticket voting benefits political parties – sometimes at the expense of the state. There’s no good reason for the government to encourage that.

∎ Straight-ticket voting encourages convenience, even ignorance, over thoughtfulness. Indeed, the sponsors describe their bill as a way to speed up voting and reduce long lines at the polls. Some things, though, are worth waiting for. Giving our neighbors a few minutes to actually think about their vote is one of them.

∎ Straight-ticket voting benefits candidates who aren’t quite ready for prime-time. Should candidates unwilling to work hard to get elected benefit simply from the “R” or “D” after their name? What about those who use the party label out of convenience, regardless of how well their views line up with their adopted party? What about those who simply aren’t up to the task?

∎ Straight-ticket voting hurts candidates who might be just what their community needs. If it’s a big year for the Democrats, sensible Republican candidates might have a hard time overcoming a straight-ticket tide. Ditto for smart Democrats in big GOP years.

∎ Before it was eliminated, straight-ticket voting caused real confusion among the vote-counters. What were they to make of voters who checked the “straight-ticket” option and then also marked their ballots for some specific candidates – including, perhaps, candidates of a different party? Could they be confident that they understood such voters’ intentions?

∎ There’s nothing stopping voters from casting a vote for every Democrat or every Republican on the ballot these days. And the act of putting a mark next to the name of a candidate in each race is hardly onerous.

Is it hopelessly idealistic to imagine an election system in which voters are encouraged to learn all they can about the candidates, weigh their merits, put party aside and vote for those who will do the most good for their community, state and country? No.

New laws should solve real problems. This proposal seeks to fix something that’s not broken. If the Legislature doesn’t kill it, Gov. Maggie Hassan should.

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