Watch CBSN Live

North Carolina Ballot Could Leave Partisan Voters Confused

This story was written by Chris Allred, Technician

North Carolina voters may encounter problems this year with the state's ballot, which forces straight-ticket voters to vote separately for president and non-partisan judges.

"Some people said that's not made terribly clear to voters," Chris Ellis, North Carolina State University assistant professor of political science, said.

Justin Moore, a former Duke University computer scientist, compiled results from the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections that showed an "undervote" in which people that voted neglected to vote for president, and Ellis said it could be a result of the ballot.

"Data suggests that to some extent, that is the case," he said.

When filling out the North Carolina ballot, one has the choice to fill a bubble beside their respective party, which will choose all the Democrats or Republicans on the front of the ballot, except for president.

Ches McDowell, a sophomore in political science and chair of the College Republicans, said the ballots should not be an issue.

"You shouldn't be voting straight party anyway," he said. "You should vote based on candidate, not party."

According to the North Carolina Commission for Verified Voting, there were 75,364 undervotes in 2000 and 93,316 in 2004, making up 3.15 percent and 2.57 percent of each year's vote.

Ellis said in a typical election there is a runoff, in which voters cast votes for the candidates of highest prominence, such as president or governor, but ignore down-ballot local candidates.

If people do not vote for president because they vote straight party, it could create an inverse runoff situation.

Jonathan Friel, a junior in biological sciences, said since he did not vote straight party, the ballot could not have been an issue.

"They were telling everybody that if you vote straight ticket, you still have to choose a president," he said.

North Carolina is a swing state, with the potential to vote for a democrat for the first time since 1976.

Michael McDonald, an associate professor at George Mason University, has compiled early voting data from across the country, including the record turnout in North Carolina.

Early voting data shows high turnout for Democrats, which have made up 55.1 percent of the over 1.2 million voters so far. About 27.7 percent of voters have been Republicans, with a remaining 17.2 percent unaffiliated.

With the highly competitive nature of this race, Ellis said any confusion among voters could adversely affect one party more than another.

"I don't know how partisan this is or how many Obama would lose [with inverse runoff]," he said.

According to McDowell, students should be concerned with the non-partisan judges on the back of the ballot, and not just the presidential race.

"Even people who are very informed don't know which judges to vote for unless they take a voters guide and list them," he said.

Each party produces a voters' guide that lists which candidates for judge positions the party endorses, McDowell said, and that is one way students can learn about judge candidates that otherwise do not advertise.

"It's a lot of work to look up these judges," he said.

View CBS News In