Bill would eliminate straight-ticket voting

WHEELING – Delegate Ryan Ferns has authored a bill to eliminate straight-ticket voting in West Virginia – a measure he said has the support of most leadership in the House of Delegates.

Ferns, D-Ohio, said he dropped off his bill to the House clerk’s office Friday, and he expects it to be assigned a bill number and officially introduced today or Tuesday.

“Straight-ticket voting encourages uneducated voting,” Ferns said. “We’re telling people if they don’t want to go through the read on a ballot, they have the option of voting for just one party. At the very least, voters should have to read the names for each candidate on the ballot.”

He said the measure already has 10 co-sponsors, including seven Democrats and three Republicans. Among the Democrat co-sponsors are Finance Committee Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo; Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison; Government Organization Committee Chairman Jim Morgan, D-Cabell; Delegates Kevin Craig and Doug Reynolds, both D-Cabell; Larry Williams, D-Preston; and Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson. Republicans include Delegates Erikka Storch, R-Ohio; and Patrick Lane and Eric Nelson, both R-Kanawha.

Ferns added House Speaker Richard Thompson of Wayne County hasn’t offered any opposition to the bill.

“He said if there was support, he would go ahead and run it,” Ferns said.

West Virginia is one of 15 states to offer straight-ticket voting – the process of electing a party’s entire slate of candidates with just one marking, according to information compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Neighboring Pennsylvania and Kentucky have straight-ticket voting, as do Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

Ohio does not have straight-ticket voting. In the Buckeye State, voters must make an individual choice for each and every race – all the way from the race for president down to the local school board races.

Current voter registration numbers in West Virginia show the state with a total of 1,236,496 registered voters – including 633,637 Democrats; 355,341 Republicans; 222,054 with no party registration; 1,387 Mountain Party members; and 24,077 belonging to other political parties not recognized in the state.

Democrat voters have consistently outnumbered Republican voters during the state’s history, so Democrat leaders in state government previously haven’t been receptive to eliminating straight-ticket voting.

But the 2012 general election saw roughly the same number of Republicans as Democrats vote a straight-party ballot despite their registration number differences, Ferns said.

“We’re as close as we’ve ever been to having equal Republican and Democratic straight ticket voting,” he said. “It’s nearly 50-50 – so this is a critical time to do it (eliminate the straight-ticket option) … We’ve had it so long – I think people think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”