AUSTIN — The Texas Senate tentatively approved a bill Wednesday along party lines that would eliminate straight-ticket voting.
Republicans say the bill would force voters to review every race on the ballot, but Democrats are worried that eliminating the straight-ticket option would undermine voter turnout and spark another civil rights lawsuit in Texas.
Straight-ticket voting allows voters to click one button or mark one box to vote for all candidates of a specific party. If the bill passes, voters could no longer do that; they would have to vote for each race individually. In some cities, there have been as many as 100 races on a ballot.
HB 25, authored by state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, is expected to get a final vote today. It would then return to the House, where members will be asked to concur with an amendment approved on the Senate floor Wednesday that would change the bill’s effective date from 2017 to 2020.
Texas Elections Source reported that 63 percent of Texans chose to cast straight-ticket ballots during the November general elections. More than half of Bexar County voters have cast “one-punch” voting in the last four presidential elections.
State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, said the intent is to encourage voters to get educated on all races and to motivate candidates to work until the end of a race instead of relying purely on a partisan vote. Texas is one of 10 remaining states that still allows “one-punch” voting, and this would align voters with the vast majority of other states, he said.
“We tried to consider everything we could regarding the election process,” Hancock said on the Senate floor. “We actually stand a chance for people working harder to get voters to the very end to expand participation.”
But Democrats were not convinced, arguing the bill would have unintended consequences to dilute Democrat and minority voters. Voting would take longer, making for longer lines that could discourage participation. People requiring assistance, such as the elderly, might not want or be able to spend the longer time it would take to vote.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, questioned Hancock about whether he had conducted a district impact analysis to review and address concerns about the bill negatively affecting minority voters. Hancock said he never deemed it necessary to run an analysis.