Texas Prepares to Cast Final Straight-Ticket Ballots

By John Austin — Corsicana Daily Sun

October 9, 2018

The one near-certainty about the November midterm is that, thanks to state lawmakers, it’s the final time Texas voters will cast straight-ticket ballots.

Voters here like one-punch voting: a whopping 63 percent of Texas’ 2016 General Election votes were straight-ticket ballots, according to the non-partisan Texas Election Source (TES).  Those five million-plus straight-party votes marked a 13 percent jump from the 2012 record, and in 2018, Texas led the nation in straight-ticket voting, according to the TES.

But as for the future, the questions concern who’s helped and who gets hurt politically once the 2020 General Election comes and straight-ticket balloting goes.  The conventional wisdom is that the party in power — in Texas, the GOP — benefits from straight-ticket voting.

Kevin Lopez, a self described conservative Democrat who’s running for Texas Senate, said that once it happens, dropping the option could work for him in GOP-heavy District 30.

For now, Texans can vote a straight ticket, yet still choose individual candidates in the other party.  But the average one-punch voter is not likely to cherry pick their way down the ballot — for example, selecting a local judicial candidate they like who’s in the opposing party.  “Not having straight-ticket voting benefits people like me,” said Lopez, who’s in a district that includes cities such as Weatherford, Gainesville, and Mineral Wells.  “It gives more opportunity to get the right-leaning independent voters.”

U.S. Representative District 6 candidate Ron Wright

Ron Wright. a Tarrant County Republican, is campaigning for the Sixth District U.S. Congressional seat.

Wright said, “nobody knows what the outcome will be,” after the straight-vote option disappears.  Except, of course, that voting “is going to take longer: it’s not going to be a five-minute process,” Wright said.

“We are concerned about possible longer lines,” even though ballots are typically not more than a single sheet in Hunt County, said Mina Cook, the county elections administrator.  “The state has told us there’s no money for (additional voting) machines.”  Nor is there more money for additional personnel or voting places.

Increased early voting could cut wait times, but “we’ve probably squeezed as much out of early voting as we can,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor.

As for the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature’s motives for changing the status quo, a lot of it has to do with the fact that big cities such as Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio are increasingly purple.  That means straight-ticket votes in those elections stand to hurt some Republicans.

Other states have seen legal challenges to elimination straight-party voting; Texas could see the same thing once the law takes effect.  But barring a successful lawsuit, what now takes 20 minutes could become an hour-and-a-half chunk of a voter’s day come 2020.

“The worry we have in 2020: people will walk in and vote for president and walk out,” Wright said.

But national politics notwithstanding, it’s worth remembering that all politics is local.  That includes support for dropping one-punch voting.

“At least in Harris, Dallas and Bexar counties. (Texas Republicans’) rationale is, it will allow them to remain competitive in county-wide races,” Jones said.  “They believe their voters will be more likely to make their way down the ballot.”

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