There is no history we can find about who first decided to stop running straight down a column in order to vote for one’s party’s nominees.
Our own theory is that someone, a man no doubt since women probably hadn’t yet achieved voting privileges, decided that in order to keep a president from riding roughshod over democracy, realized that there really were three branches of government, and if he could do anything to keep one from being stronger than the others, he’d do it.
This idea gained wings. By the mid-Thirties, people voted not only for a candidate, but to circumscribe his power. Rather than be presented with a one party machine that had control over daily lives, it was deemed healthier to split one’s vote so that no House or Senate, in alliance with a new president, could lord its good fortune over the rest of us.
In time, politicians and pollsters came to rely on this instinctive protection. Thus, pairing a Republican president with a Democratic Senate or House reduced the likelihood of tyranny. Opposite a Democratic president, people felt more secure by checking his powers and electing a Republican Congress. It was a balancing act that worked for a long while until Republicans and Democrats (fairly recently) decided they hated each other anyway and why pretend? (For many years there were issues on which both parties could and did unite. Miraculously.)
To see how effectively this checks and balances system worked, we have only to look at the last 8 years. When Barack Obama was elected, instincts drove the electorate to ask him to serve alongside a Republican Congress. In these last 6 years, the government experienced (as did we all) gridlock. If Donald Trump is elected this autumn, and IF by chance the Republican should hold onto the House and Senate, the nation is in peril. If Hillary wins, and somehow changes by her victory majorities in the House and Senate, we are in effect no better off.
Now we have two nominees that very few people seem to like. Many talk about leaving the top line of the slate blank, but running a straight ticket downwards from there. No vote for a president does not invalidate a ballot.
Many, until recently (very), decided to vote “in protest” of candidates rather than for. Thus, if one didn’t like Donald Trump, one could –it was thought until yesterday- vote safely for Governor Gary Johnson as a fallback. If you hated Trump but couldn’t stand to vote for Clinton, this was your safety position. You wanted to vote and you could. Your responsibility would have been discharged. If you hated Hillary and could never bring yourself to vote for her, you could also vote for Johnson or even Jill Stein, and then go about your business pulling levers down for other down-ticket Democrats.
Another historic reason for ticket-spitting is that people have a tendency to trust their own Representatives or Senators who have done them favors and under whose guidance they have prospered. This accounts for the continual re-election of incumbents. Many politicians have crackerjack staffs. (My first Washington job came with a push from our Republican Senator. We voted for him until his retirement. Now, THAT is called quid pro quo, albeit tacit.)
We’re not writing a history of voting in the US, or even a screed against the possibility of one-party rule.
We are looking ahead to what conceivably could go wrong in November that would affect our nation and most of the world.
The fly in this ointment is called the Supreme Court, about which we’ll hear increasingly as November approaches. Flatly, a one party Congress united with the same party’s president means appointments to the Supreme Court may actually be made and “advised and consented” to.
We face the possibility, for the first time in decades, of “losing” half the country. Add to that the increasingly partisan atmosphere in which we live and we’ve got trouble right here in River City.
We’re not trying to advise voters today. Merely asking them to think. Are we destined for four years of a NO Senate (as the last have been)? Are we slated to watch one party spend federal funds (in the House) on projects of which one-half the electorate frowns?
Perhaps, and we hate to admit this, Ted Cruz has it right: vote your consciences. This November is no time for knee-jerk voting. Those on the far left, and on the far right, may be able to vote reflexively. The rest of us, in-between, have a more difficult and time-consuming task ahead. We can only hope we’re all up to it.