When a less chewed up and spit out Jeff Sessions vacated his Senate seat in 2017 to become Donald Trump’s first U.S. Attorney General, it forced a special election in Alabama to replace him. And that’s about the only way a Democrat like Doug Jones was ever going to win in that state.
The reason is straight ticket voting (STV). Alabama (and six other states*) still offer this option for those who have one concern when casting a ballot: party affiliation.
The trend in recent years has been to eliminate STV, which allows the voter to fill in one bubble at the top of the ballot and call it a day. But Alabama isn’t known for following enlightened trends, especially if the current setup gives an advantage to Republicans.
Doug Jones’ seat wasn’t up in 2018, when 65 percent of Alabama voters chose to vote a straight ticket. Predictably, more of them were Republicans.
According to the secretary of state, 661,898 Republicans voted a straight-ticket ballot on Tuesday. For Democrats, there were 460,408 straight-ticket voters.
The special election that Jones won had only one office on the ballot, so the voters who turned out were there to vote for or against him only. That situation won’t be repeated in 2020.
Jeff Sessions will first face several primary candidates that Trump — who railed against Sessions after he recused himself from interfering in the Mueller investigation — will probably back over him. Because of straight ticket voting, one of them is almost guaranteed to head to the Senate after the election, even if Jones is generally liked by his constituents.
* The other states that still allow STV are Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah.