The days of Texas voters casting entire ballots along party lines will soon be coming to an end.
In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill (HB) 25, which eliminates straight ticket voting in Texas starting with the 2020 election.
Straight ticket voting allows a registered voter to select all candidates affiliated with the person’s political party of choice.
According to a report in the Texas Tribune, roughly 64 percent of total votes in Texas’ 10 largest counties, including Travis, were cast using the straight-ticket system.
Such a trend is apparent in Hays County, which in 2016 had the number of straight-ticket ballots rise by 51 percent from the last presidential election in 2012.
During the 2016 general election, roughly 60 percent of the 73,588 ballots cast in Hays County were a straight ticket. Of that amount, 50 percent cast a Republican ballot, while another 46 percent cast a Democratic ballot.
Bert Garza, Hays County Democratic Party Pct. 224 chairperson, said HB 25 has been a controversial issue for most Democrats, who believe eliminating straight ticket voting removes an option for voters on the ballot.
“They feel that’s an option voters like and they should have that option available to them,” Garza said.
One drawback to straight ticket voting is how it affects local candidates who may be non-partisan, Garza said.
While straight ticket voting is convenient, it may also lead to voters ignoring many of the “down ballot” races and measures that affect cities and counties.
In Texas, straight ticket voting only applies to partisan elections, but does not affect non-partisan initiatives such as school board, city council and charter amendment measures.
Deborah Chavez, Hays County Democratic Party Pct. 228 chairperson, who spoke on her own behalf, said she has heard the argument the elimination of straight ticket voting would allow for people to make more informed decisions on election day.
However, Chavez questioned whether there was evidence to support such a claim.
“Where is the evidence that people who vote straight ticket are not well informed?” Chavez said. “That argument doesn’t stand up.”
She also questioned the purpose of the law, which some have claimed could bring Texas in-line with other states that don’t allow straight ticket voting.
Texas, along with Michigan, North Carolina and West Virginia, are the only states that allow straight ticket voting. Chavez cited an attempt by Michigan’s legislature to ban straight ticket voting was barred by a lower court.
“In my view, it really has one consequence, to where each voter could spend more time in the voting booth, which means longer lines at the polls,” Chavez said. “The results from that could be lower voter turnout.”
But she also believed legislators are “passing legislation to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Chavez said the new law could impact the minority, as well as the lower economic, population the most. She said they could be impacted as the potential for longer lines at the voting booth could infringe on time at work or with their families.
In Pct. 228, which had one of the highest rates of straight ticket voters, Chavez was concerned those residents could be impacted, especially if word about the new law doesn’t get out.
“One of our goals as a precinct chair is to increase participation and increase voter turnout,” Chavez said. “If we’re successful, we’re going to have more people voting. If it takes longer for people to vote, it could discourage people.”
Russel Hayter, Hays County Republican Party chairperson, said one of the arguments in favor of HB 25 is it could produce a more informed electorate.
“I think most voters will inform themselves and will spend the time to vote in each race,” Hayter said.
Top five precincts with straight ticket ballots
- Buda: Oldtown Buda, Garlic Creek, Oxbow, Whispering Hollow
- 2,461 ballots: 1371 Republican, 1017 Democrat, 52 Liberterian, 21 Green
- Buda: Boniita Vista, Shadow Creek, Green Meadows, Sunfield
- 2,461 ballots: 1022 R, 1394 D, 52 L, 21 G
- Dripping Springs: Belterra, Highpointe
- 2226 ballots: 1418 R, 749 D, 50 L, 10 G
- Dripping Springs: Several subdivisions north of Ranch Road 12, excluding Belterra
- 2328 ballots: 1510 R, 762 D, 39 L, 17 G
- Wimberley: Woodcreek area
- 2028 ballots: 1351 R, 639 D, 29 L, 9 G