Why Voters Need To Read The Whole Ballot

Today in our ongoing election coverage, we look at a problem that could come up if people vote straight party ticket on the ballot. Voters might miss a number of important elections.

Depending on where you live in the area, you could have as many as 57 elected officials to vote on, so most people choose the straight party option and call it a day.

But that presents a problem for all the items at the bottom of the ballot that don't fall into a party race.

Bob Stein is a noted elections analyst and political science professor at Rice University.

"Straight ticket voters, of course, just go in and they hit one button. What happens and what can happen and what does happen, is that they get down to the bottom of the ballot and they don't realize they can't vote straight ticket for the school bonds, the HCC, the city and METRO and they don't vote. They just skip it over."

Stein says about 65 percent of voters will choose the straight ticket option, which means if they're not paying attention, they'll miss about $3.5 billion worth of bond proposals from HISD, the City of Houston and HCC along with the METRO referendum.

Stein, who has been advising those groups on how to get people to vote on those items, says the key is early voting versus voting on election day.

"When you vote early, you get to pick where, when and how you vote. And so what we find is that when people vote straight ticket, there's a propensity to miss these things at the bottom of the ballot. But when you're choosing to vote, it's convenient."

Stein estimates as much as 65 percent of turnout will come during early voting.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart runs the elections process and says people who vote straight ticket will see a screen on the e-slate prompting them to vote on all the extra items.

"And if you live out in the City of Baytown, you've got 19 extra items on your ballot. Most people, if they're in a METRO service area, will have that on their ballot. There's school districts, you know you've got the Houston Independent School District will have issues on the ballot, Spring, North Forest, Klein, Cypress-Fairbanks etc. So there's other issues that could be on your ballot."

And some of those items could cost you money in the form of a property tax increase.

Stanart says one of the things he hopes voters will do is take the time to research the issues.

"It's an opportunity to let your voice be heard. It's your dollars too, all these other things beyond the normal candidates, those can affect your pocketbook. So do you want those dollars spent? Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. But let's do our homework."

Early voting starts a week from Monday. Stanart estimates as many as 750,000 people will vote early.

For more of KUHF's Election Coverage, including sample ballot and polling information, visit www.kuhf.org/election2012

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...