Election 2012
5:15 pm
Tue November 6, 2012

Explaining NC's Strange Straight-Party Voting Law

North Carolina voters got an extra bit of instruction at the polls today regarding a quirk in the state's straight-party voting rules.  It's nothing new – in fact, it's been the law since the 1960s – but it's a perpetual source of confusion. The quirk is this: in North Carolina people who choose to vote straight-party still have to vote separately for president.  

Only 15 states even allow people to vote straight ticket at all. Of them, only North Carolina has this strange anomaly forcing people to cast a separate vote for president. To understand why, let's turn back the clock to 1964.

North Carolina voters elect a Democrat (that year it was Lyndon Johnson) to the White House as they've done almost exclusively for nearly a century. But the Civil Rights movement is sweeping America.

This is a time when White Democrats in the South were uneasy over their party's support for civil rights legislation. Republican presidential candidates begin wooing those voters and from 1968 on, North Carolina elects Republican presidents almost exclusively.

Suddenly Democrats who'd long controlled North Carolina politics and instituted the straight ticket voting rule to begin with have a problem, says UNC professor Ferrell Guillory.

"People would go in and vote a straight ticket and therefore they voted for Republican candidate for governor and other offices. So the Democrats in the legislature - as a defensive measure enacted a law separating the presidential vote from the state offices that you could still vote a straight ticket."

From then on it was not uncommon for North Carolina to elect Republicans for president, but Democrats for Governor. Republican state lawmakers try repeatedly over the years to change the straight-party rule back, but Democrats controlled the legislature and blocked them. 

Last year, when Republican lawmakers were in power, they tried again, but dropped the bill early on. Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer says that's probably because Democratic Governor Bev Perdue was likely to veto it anyway.

If Republicans maintain control of the legislature and win the Governor's mansion this year, "that bill probably will fly through the General Assembly," says Bitzer.