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It's time to put people ahead of party

Let me finish with this.

Let me finish with this.

Congressmen Charlie Dent and Jim Matheson belong to opposite parties and represent districts on different sides of the country, but they have something important in common: neither is an ideologue.  They are both No Labels' Problem Solvers.  Each has evidenced an independent streak in the House, and now they want to make it easier for voters to respond in kind.  They're trying to end straight-party voting in federal elections.

Dent is a Republican who comes from Pennsylvania's 15th congressional district in the Lehigh Valley.

Matheson is a Democrat from Utah's 4th congressional district, which stretches from parts of Salt Lake City in the north to Spring City in Sanpete County in the south. Pennsylvania and Utah are two of just fifteen states that still allow the practice of voters pulling a straight-party lever instead of making individual selections in elections.

If the People before Party Act sponsored by Dent and Matheson becomes law, voters would need to make individual selections for Congress, Senate and the presidency

Nothing would preclude a voter from selecting all Republicans or all Democrats, but they'd have to get there in three steps instead of one.  The two congressmen hope that forcing voters to vote for individual names instead of party labels will limit severe partisanship.

Matheson told me that when voters can "walk in, open the first page of a ballot, punch a party label and walk out," it diminishes their vote.   He said it means we're not looking at individuals, we're just looking at party.

Supporters of straight-party balloting say it guarantees that less publicized races are not ignored on the ballot.  Those who seek to end the practice counter that it will spur consideration of independents and minor party candidates.

Not surprisingly, Matheson told me the parties are not pleased with his effort to upset the status quo.

According to Dr. Randall M. Miller, a professor of history at St. Joseph's University, the history of straight party voting stems from patronage.   Miller said the straight-party balloting has declined sharply with Baby Boomers who are more inclined to split tickets, but he questions the appeal of banning the method.   The real problem with partisanship, says Dr. Miller, is not straight-party voting, but hyper-partisan districts created by gerrymandering.

Miller is right.  Nate Silver has documented the decline of competitive districts at the FiveThirtyEight blog.  In 1992, there were 102 competitive districts and now there are only 35.

But if we want to support problem solvers like Dent and Matheson, we can take a step forward by forcing voters to make multiple choices instead of pulling one lever.