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October 27, 2012

Ballots feature options for voters who prefer to cross political lines

With only one local race fielding candidates from both major parties on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election, it’s hard to know whether straight-party voting will be as popular in Cullman County as it was in the Alabama Republican sweep two years ago.

But, if you’re one of the voters who’s hesitant to tick off a straight party ballot because you prefer one or two (or more) candidates who hail from the other side of the political fence, it helps to bone up on how straight party voting works in Alabama.

The first option at the top of the Nov. 6 ballot in Alabama is “Straight Party Voting,” followed by your party choice of either the Alabama Democratic Party or the Alabama Republican Party. If you mark one of these and leave every other option on your ballot blank, then every candidate representing that party — for every office from President of the United States all the way down to Cullman County probate judge — will get your vote.

But what if you’re a Republican who wants to vote with your party for every race but one — say, the presidential race — in next month’s election?

You can still vote a straight Republican ticket, so long as you also mark your vote for Democrat Barack Obama (or one of the three independent candidates on the presidential ballot) in the corresponding box. All other votes for seats which field a Republican candidate will follow your ‘straight party’ vote, but your vote for another party’s candidate in the presidential race will still count.

Alabama’s deputy secretary of state, Emily Thompson, said the state allows a voter to mark a straight-ticket ballot for one party and then go down the ballot and vote for candidates of the other party. Thompson said there’s no limit on how many candidates can be marked in the other party — and the ballot will still be counted.

Similarly, a straight party vote will only count for candidates in that party. If you vote straight party Democrat, and there’s a race — such as the one for the Cullman County Commission chairman’s seat — that fields only a Republican on the ballot, your vote for the commission chairman’s race will simply be left blank. In other words, no candidate in that race will get your vote, since there aren’t any candidates from your preferred party on the ballot in that race.

Locally, only the probate judge’s race fields a Democratic candidate — incumbent Leah Patterson Lust — who could benefit from Republican voters “bending” their straight ticket.

The Democratic candidate for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bob Vance, has mentioned the little-known practice of straight party ticket crossover voting in his campaign appearances. Vance faces Republican Roy Moore, who previously served as chief justice.

Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at bbullard@cullmantimes.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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