State Ballot Design Comes Under Attack
The design of North Carolina's general election ballot is drawing criticism from one unaffiliated local candidate, as well as The New York Times.
Voters must mark their ballots separately for their presidential choices if they vote a straight party ticket. This instruction is contained on the ballot, but many voters do not read the instruction or do not understand it, according to some critics.
Also a source of confusion is the fact that the ballot has two sides and must be marked on both if the voter wants to vote in all races.
"It is a tremendous disadvantage to unaffiliated candidates," said Tony Berk, an unaffiliated candidate for district attorney in Moore County.
Berk said the North Carolina ballot inadvertently makes it difficult for unaffiliated candidates to be considered by voters. He said the difference is not emphasized by poll workers and that the location of the notice on the ballot also is disadvantageous to unaffiliated candidates.
In a recent editorial, The New York Times likened the North Carolina ballot to the infamous "butterfly ballot" that snarled the election process in Florida eight years ago. The Times editorial criticized the North Carolina ballot because of confusion created by the separation of the vote for president and vice president from the straight party slot on the ballot.
It has been estimated that presidential candidates miss thousands of votes in North Carolina because voters do not realize they must vote separately for president if they are voting a straight ticket ballot.
Berk, who is challenging Republican Maureen Krueger for district attorney, is the only unaffiliated candidate on the Moore County ballot this year.
This issue did not arise two years ago when two unaffiliated candidates opposed incumbent Republican Joe Boylan for the District 52 seat in the state House of Representatives, because it was not a presidential election year. Boylan won the primary.
County Elections Director Glenda Clendenin said that each voter receives a printed notice advising that the offices of president and vice president must be marked separately if voting a straight party ticket. Voters are further advised to read their ballots carefully before marking them.
Each ballot contains the instruction that "a straight party vote does not vote for U.S. president and vice president, unaffiliated candidates or nonpartisan offices, issues or referenda."
The voter must mark the ballot separately for president and vice president and for unaffiliated candidates and for the nonpartisan races for the judiciary, Board of Education and Soil and Water Conservation Board.
In addition, there is the issue of third party candidates. Libertarian candidates are running for president and vice president, U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, and commissioner of insurance. Anyone wishing to vote for Libertarian candidates must mark the ballot separately.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that both the Republican and Democratic parties have embraced some candidates for nonpartisan office as well as unaffiliated candidates. This has led some voters to believe that because a nonpartisan or unaffiliated candidate is registered as a Democrat or a Republican, he or she is running under the party label and will be counted under a straight ticket vote.
There are no referendums on the ballot this year.
Clendenin said voters are urged to read ballot instructions carefully before they mark ballots. They are also reminded to mark both sides of the ballot.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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