On Thursday, the Texas Senate joined the Texas House of Representatives in voting to ban straight-ticket voting in the state.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus identified dumping the straight-ticket option as a session priority this winter. "Too often, good men and women are swept out of down-ballot offices due to the political winds at the moment," he said in a February statement, echoing calls from Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht in January to end one-punch voting, which often has its biggest effect on judicial races.
Opponents of House Bill 25 claimed that killing the straight-ticket option will disproportionately effect Democratic and minority voters. "Frankly, I don’t see any purpose for this legislation other than trying to dilute the vote of Democrats and, more specifically, minorities," Dallas Democratic state Sen. Royce West said.
State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat from Houston, said that voters could take as long as 10 minutes to vote during Harris County elections, which often have 100 or more races. Increasing the amount of time it takes people to vote, Garcia argued, could lengthen lines and decrease turnout.
During the 2016 presidential election, 66 percent of Dallas County voters voted a straight-ticket ballot. The vast majority of those straight-ticket ballots, almost half of the total ballots cast in the county, in fact, were voted by Democrats. In 2006, Dallas Democrats swept the county's judicial races, thanks to voters who'd turned on the presidency of George W. Bush. In the years since, Dallas County has been reliably Democratic. Only one Republican, former District Attorney Susan Hawk, has won a contested countywide election in the ensuing decade.
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Supporters of the bill like state Sen. Craig Estes, a Wichita Falls Republican, said some down-ballot candidates don't get a fair shot because of the partisan makeups of their counties. "You don't get a chance by punching the ticket," he said. Republican state Sen. Kelly Hancock, the bill sponsor in the Senate, said he hopes the bill will lead to voters better educating themselves about individual races.
"I think this would encourage all those running for office to work as hard as they can to educate voters as much as possible," Hancock said.
In a March letter, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said getting rid of one-punch voting could cost Dallas County $885,000 in the first year it is implemented, thanks to additional voting machines and poll workers Jenkins said will be needed to assist voters.
The bill will head to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk later this month, as long as the House agrees with a Senate amendment to delay implementation of the ban until 2020.