In a state where half the voting population, according to state elections officials, votes on a straight party ticket, petition candidates now have another challenge in the days before the election.
Voting straight party essentially is a shortcut for voters who typically side with one party, said Chris Whitmire with the S.C. Election Commission.
But petition candidates, not affiliated with any party on the ballot, worry about how such voting might affect them in the coming election.
In Horry County during the last presidential election, 52,519 of 105,749 votes were completed straight party, said Sandy Martin, Director of Horry County Voter Registration. That’s 49.6 percent.
Tom Winslow, a petition candidate for S.C. House District 103, said he is worried about the issue.
He said it’s tough because so many people vote straight party and may not look at a specific candidate name.
“It’s frustrating because [voting] should be based on morals and principles and the person you’re voting for [should] represent those principals,” he said. “Then of course if people want to vote for the Republican side that vote doesn’t go towards a Republican that doesn’t have that ‘R’ by its name.”
That’s the case for Winslow who is a Republican running against a Democratic incumbent. Because he’s a petition candidate, a straight party Republican vote won’t select him.
Whitmire said poll workers won’t be notifying voters unless specifically asked about voting straight party.
Bill Wiegand, petition candidate for S.C. House District 105, doesn’t think that’s fair.
“It’s very unfair to not only the voters but to the petition candidates that worked so hard to get back on the ballots,” he said. “How many people know to ask the voting officials what will happen if I vote straight ticket?”
Whitmire explained the warning could be construed as suggesting how to vote.
“If you suggest they not vote a straight party ticket, you’re suggesting they vote a certain way,” he said. “It comes down to voter responsibility and making sure their ballot contains the votes they want to cast.”
Petition candidates aren’t the only ones that could be skipped. Voting straight party will not cast a vote in nonpartisan offices such as the Soil and Water Commission or referendum questions.
In the case of S.C. House District 56 and 105, where all candidates are petition candidates, a straight party vote will mean no vote at all.
Mike Connett, petition candidate for S.C. House District 105, said it’s particularly a concern for absentee voters who won’t be prompted by a machine pointing out unanswered questions.
“The real issue were looking at now are the absentee ballots where people may skip over it,” he said. “All I can do is let folks know as I’m out knocking on doors.”
Kevin Hardee, also running for District 105, has similar concerns.
“I know a lot of people may just continue to vote and not go back through the ballot,” he said. “Since there’s no [party-affiliated] candidate in this particular race, it neutralizes it a little bit. It makes it a level playing field for all of us but it’s not too reassuring.”
District 105 candidate Bert Von Herrmann, said in the case of that district, a straight party vote won’t hurt or help anyone in the race.
“What I’m worried about more than anything is there won’t be an accurate discussion of representation for House 105 without people going through the ballot.”
Blake Hewitt, who is running for District 105, said it will be interesting to see if votes are lost but that people in the area are aware of the issue.
“Because the ballot controversy seems to have a lot of impact in Horry County, people seem to be pretty educated about what’s going on,” Hewitt said.
In both District 56 – the race between Dennis DiSabato and Mike Ryhal – and the District 105 race, voters won’t be able to choose a candidate based on their party affiliation unless they’ve done research on the individuals.
Von Hermann said that shouldn’t matter.
“Those are just labels,” he said. “Republicans disagree with Republicans and Democrats disagree with Democrats.”
Before anyone officially votes the ballot will show a review screen which will show unanswered contests in red allowing voters to go back to make a selection, Whitmire said.
Reviewing selections, Whitmire said, is most important and individual selections take priority over a straight party vote.
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.