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Fewer straight-party votes cast in Oklahoma

About 10 percent fewer Oklahomans voted straight party on this year's ballot compared with four years ago. About 120,000 fewer straight-party Republican votes were cast this year, even though the president, a Democrat, failed to win a single county.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: November 12, 2012

Anti-Obama fever that swept across Oklahoma didn't result in voters last week swarming to vote straight-party Republican.

Only one in three Oklahomans voted Tuesday for President Barack Obama, and the president again failed to win any of the state's 77 counties. (He won 33.2 percent of the vote this year, compared with 34.4 percent in 2008.) But the percentage of straight-party Republican voters dropped about 10 percent compared with four years ago, from 41.4 percent in 2008 to 31.4 percent this year, figures from the state Election Board show.

About 120,000 fewer Oklahoma voters cast straight-party Republican ballots Tuesday, according to the state Election Board. About 64,000 more Republicans than Democrats voted a straight-party ticket. But that is far less a margin than during the midterm elections two years ago, when nearly 100,000 more Republicans than Democrats voted a straight-party ticket, which helped GOP candidates record a historic first by winning all eight statewide offices on the 2010 ballot.

Nearly 500,000 of the 1.3 million voters who cast ballots in the presidential race voted straight-party, state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said. That represents about 38.5 percent of the votes cast in the race.

Of those, 281,724 were Republican straight-party ballots, or 56.4 percent, and 217,762, or 43.6 percent, were Democratic straight party ballots.

In 2008, 684,539 cast straight-party ballots for president. Nearly 60 percent, or 405,488, were cast by Republicans and 276,051 were by Democrats.

With the president's popularity never catching on in Oklahoma, it was possible that Republican straight-party voting would increase in 2012. Since Obama's election, legislation was introduced but never passed in the Legislature that would have made it a crime to enforce the Affordable Care Act, which is commonly called Obamacare. About 65 percent of voters in 2010 approved State Question 756, that would allow Oklahomans to opt out of a health care system.

Ballot confusion

A political scientist said a new ballot design in which voters only have one option to vote straight party may be a key factor. Four years ago, voters had the option to vote straight party solely in the presidential race.

“Part of it is the ballot design,” said Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor. “We're not measuring the same thing we measured four years ago. It's a different creature.”

Four years ago, there were up to four areas on the ballot where voters could mark to vote solely along party lines. Marks had to be made to vote straight party in the presidential, statewide, congressional, and legislative and county officer races. Legislation was passed and signed into law since the 2008 election that now provides only one area to mark straight-party voting for all four groups of races.

“On the one hand, it's good that the ballot design is cutting down on the straight-party pull because it shows voters are giving thought to their ballot,” Gaddie said. “But the fact that the design is causing us to take longer to get through the ballot, that's a bad thing.”

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