Straight party voting at all-time high in Westmoreland County
More than half of voters who cast ballots last week in Westmoreland County did so by pushing a single button.
Straight party voting accounted for more than 80,100 ballots, meaning that many people pressed one button to vote for all candidates from a specific political party.
According to unofficial results, more than 48,000 ballots were cast for all Republican candidates and 31,700 for Democrats in Westmoreland County during the midterm election. A few hundred straight party votes also were registered for Libertarian and Green Party candidates.
It was the largest number of straight party votes cast in Westmoreland since the elections bureau started keeping track in 2006.
Political experts said the practice is on the rise because of a growing partisan nature of voters.
“It’s certainly a sign of of the increasing polarization of American politics,” said Chris Bonneau, a political science professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Pennsylvania is one of eight states that still allows straight party voting.
Since 1994, there has been a growing trend to abolish straight party voting throughout the country, said Dylan Lynch, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures. There are no current efforts to abandon the practice in Pennsylvania, he said.
In 2006, the first year computerized voting machines were used in Westmoreland County, 42 percent of the 127,000 ballots cast voted for just one party. More than 69,000 voters, or about 39 percent of all ballots cast, did so in the county during the 2016 presidential election.
Bonneau said the impact of straight ticket voting in elections is negligible.
“It makes voting much more efficient and ensures voters participate in all the races,” Bonneau said. “There is no evidence it changes people’s views.”
He suggested that most voters who identify with one political party are unlikely to cast votes for candidates from the other side in high profile races.
G. Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, said partisan voting was more prevalent early last century and started to phase out in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But it’s been on the rise in recent years.
“The polarization and partisanship, the big differences between Democrats and Republicans on large issues, are at levels the likes of which we haven’t seen before,” Madonna said.
Kerry Jobe, chairman of the county’s Republican Committee, said straight party voting is encouraged, especially when there are more national and statewide candidates on the ballot.
“In local races, people will break party lines to vote for people they know personally,” Jobe said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or email@example.com.