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Is the end near for straight-ticket voting?

It could be.

Rep. Ron Simmons

Partisan efficiency experts might love the time-saving charms of straight-ticket voting, but a number of the state’s top elected officials are ready to outlaw the practice.

Straight-ticket, or one-punch, voting allows people to cast a ballot for all of one party’s candidates with one pull of the lever, stroke of the pencil or click of the voting button.

One and done.

Its requires partisan faith on the part of a voter, an expression of trust in a party’s primary voters, a conviction that the chosen candidates — no matter who they are, what they’ve done and whether they are qualified — are better than candidates offered by the opposition party.

And it makes the coattails of the people at the top of the ballot very, very influential.

Just ask a judge.

“I will say only a word about judicial selection, but it is a word of warning,” Texas Supreme Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said this week in his State of the Judiciary speech. “In November, many good judges lost solely because voters in their districts preferred a presidential candidate in the other party. These kinds of partisan sweeps are common, with judicial candidates at the mercy of the top of the ticket. I do not disparage our new judges. I welcome them. My point is only that qualifications did not drive their election; partisan politics did. Such partisan sweeps are demoralizing to judges and disruptive to the legal system. But worse than that, when partisan politics is the driving force, and the political climate is as harsh as ours has become, judicial elections make judges more political, and judicial independence is the casualty.”

State Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, has filed legislation — House Bill 433 —to end straight-ticket voting in Texas. He might have some angels: House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have both sponsored bans in the past. Both remain critical of one-punch voting.

The major political parties are reluctant to part with it, however — it’s part of the regulatory advantage that makes the Republicans and the Democrats appear to offer the only viable choices for Americans — or Texans — who want to take part in civic life.

The two-party racket just about kills the possibility that you can find a candidate with whom you completely agree. Instead, you’re generally stuck with two options, left to choose the least undesirable candidate in a field of two.

Libertarians and Greens and Teas and Occupies and who knows who else would love to elbow their way in, but this is a protectorate.

[…]

One of the best arguments for straight-ticket voting is that there are too many people on the general election ballot, that too little is known about them and that the party label is the average voter’s most reliable guide to which candidate is more likely to agree with that voter’s political preferences.

A strong argument against is that partisan coattails can be stronger than brains. Every election seems to end with an unintended consequence, often a good judge tossed aside because the political winds replaced one party’s flag with another — or a loon elected by voters who actually knew nothing about their candidate.

Rep. Simmons filed the same bill in 2015, and what I wrote about it then still stands. Putting aside the fact that nobody had a problem with this until Democrats started winning judicial races in Dallas and Harris Counties, the arguments that Ross Ramsey puts forth just don’t make sense. You can vote straight ticket Libertarian or Green, you know, and if you can’t vote “Tea Party” it’s because no one is identified on the ballot as such because no official political party by that name exists. This past year was in many ways the best year ever for third party candidates, as they racked up big numbers in multiple statewide races, in particular for President and for Railroad Commissioner, despite the prevalence of straight party voting. Plenty of “loons” get elected in primaries and non-partisan elections (see, for instance, Dave Wilson getting elected to the HCC Board of Trustees in 2013). In what way does straight ticket voting make the difference?

The one thing that will change if straight ticket voting is taken away is that it will take longer to vote. If I had any reason to believe that the people pushing this also intended to address that problem, by allocating some money for counties to buy extra voting machines or allowing longer early voting hours or broadening the class of people who can vote by mail, then I would have no strong objection to this. But they don’t, and I have no reason to see this as anything but another way to make voting a little harder and less pleasant for some people. As such, I continue to oppose these bills.

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10 Comments

  1. Greg Wythe says:

    There’s also a hypocrisy factor. If voters are casting ill-informed votes for specific candidates because of one-punch straight-party voting, then any elected official supportive of this idea has to be admitting that they themselves may have been elected by an ill-informed electorate.

    In the end, knowing what party a candidate belongs to should be viewed as a worthwhile differentiator and a valid basis for informing one’s vote. Roughly two-thirds of voters are casting their vote this way. That would appear to be the free market speaking loud and clear about how they choose to vote.

  2. General Grant says:

    I disagree with you, Kuff, but in any event this is not the real problem. The real issue is that Texas has way too many elected officials on the ballot to ask any voter, let alone a casual voter, to make informed decisions about all of them. Making judicial and clerical positions non-elected is the single most important thing we could do to promote informed voting.

  3. brad m says:

    Hecht’s crocodile tears didn’t comment on all good non-judicial candidates that were not elected due to straight party voting that served to elect the most rabid un/ill-informed partisan candidates in various electoral boundaries.

    Ulysses, democracy takes effort. I can’t support your defense of laziness for voters. Get rid of straight party voting and why not even better to implement non-partisan affiliation for all elected positions.

  4. Scott says:

    Why won’t people just fill in all the bubbles for the R’s or D’s? Who is to say that this will lead to more informed voting?

  5. Joel says:

    i can’t figure out why a republican is the one proposing this. aren’t republicans the chief beneficiaries of straight-ticket voting in one-party texas?

    meanwhile, i would think democrats would be all for this. no?

    is there a nuance i am missing here?

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    This ought to be an issue with bipartisan support, if we actually care about electing the best person for the job. +1 for let’s end straight ticket voting.

  7. Jen says:

    The problem with eliminating straight-ticket voting is that voting will take much longer, so it is another way for Republicans to strangle voting in minority/Dem precincts. In counties where Democrats are in control hopefully more voting machines will be provided if this gets passed.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    @Jen:

    I don’t understand your reasoning. I print a sample ballot before I head to the polls and know who I am voting for when I stroll in. I’ve never spent more than 5 minutes actually performing the mechanics of voting (well, maybe 6, if we include perusing the overview of my voting choices before locking in my vote). Exactly how much extra time do you figure it is going to take minorities and Democrats to go through each position and pick out the candidate listed as a (D)?

  9. PDiddie says:

    I agree that straight-party voting in judicial elections should be eliminated, but if that happened, there would be a severe increase in judicial race undervoting, so getting rid of it entirely would avoid some fresh unintended and adverse consequence. The SAEN op/ed folks make the most convincing case in favor.

    Let’s just stop appeasing the laziest and shallowest-thinking among our electorate in this regard. Casting a ballot should take some time researching and thinking about the choices. Perhaps Betsy DeVos can institute some curriculum that rewards critical thinking in civic classes for new voters …. nemmind.

    I’m unsympathetic to the “it takes too long to vote as it is” argument, and I laugh at out loud at ascribing feelings of inadequacy upon judges who may or may not feel guilty about getting elected via SPV.

  10. Bill Daniels says:

    The only cogent argument I can think of to be FOR straight ticket voting is to help people with carpal tunnel syndrome.

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