In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Laredo, the Texas Democratic Party — joined by the chair of the Webb County Democratic Party and the Democratic campaign arms of the U.S. Senate and House — claims the elimination of straight-ticket voting is unconstitutional and intentionally discriminatory because the longer lines and waiting times it is expected to cause would be disproportionately felt at polling places that serve Hispanic and black voters.
“In ending a century-old voting practice that Texans have relied on to exercise their most fundamental and sacred rights — the rights to political participation and association — Texas has recklessly created a recipe for disaster at the polls in 2020,” the Democrats wrote in their lawsuit.
The popular practice allowed general-election voters to vote for all of the candidates of either party in an election by simply picking a straight-ticket option at the top of the ballot. But Texas Republican lawmakers championed a change to the law during the 2017 legislative session, arguing it would compel voters to make more-informed decisions because they would have to make a decision on every race on a ballot.
Most states don’t allow for one-punch voting, but its elimination in Texas met intense opposition from Democrats who fear the change will be most felt among voters of color and lead to voter dropoff, particularly in blue urban counties that have the longest ballots in the state.
Citing violations of the First and 14th Amendments and the federal Voting Rights Act, Democrats are asking a federal judge to block the state from eliminating straight-ticket voting ahead of the general election.
“The end of straight-ticket voting was yet another Republican attempt to suppress the vote, alter the electorate, and take away power from the rising Texas majority,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “In minority-majority districts, lines to vote have already proven to be hours long.”
Courthouse News has the details of the lawsuit.
The Democrats say in the lawsuit that Texas’ longest polling-place lines are in its most populous counties, which have large concentrations of Democratic-leaning black and Latino voters.
The biggest counties also have the longest ballots, with voters wading through dozens of candidates, exacerbated by the fact Texas is one of a handful of states that selects judges in partisan elections.
For years, Texans could complete their civic duty in minutes by stepping into the voting booth and clicking one box to vote for all the Democratic or Republican candidates on the ticket — and millions of Texans chose that option.
“During Texas’s 2018 general election, approximately two-thirds of voters — more than 5.6 million Texans — cast their votes using STV [straight-ticket voting],” the lawsuit states. (Emphasis in original.)
But in 2017 the Republican-led Legislature passed House Bill 25 along party lines to end straight-ticket voting on Sept. 1, 2020 and Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed it into law.
Texas Democrats brought a federal complaint Thursday against Secretary of State Ruth Hughs in Laredo, seeking an injunction to stop House Bill 25 from going on the books.
The party says in the lawsuit that HB 25 is a “recipe for disaster,” especially after Super Tuesday saw voters waiting more than two hours in Houston and Dallas to get to voting booths.
Well, the tie-in to the Super Tuesday mess is clever and timely, though how legally relevant it may be remains to be seen. As both stories note, there’s been quite the fusillade of voting rights lawsuits lately, from Motor Voter 2.0 to electronic signatures for voter registration to mobile voting locations. Some have more merit than others, though I remain skeptical that the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS would ever allow any of them to succeed. As has been the case before, I agree with the basic premise of this lawsuit – I remain a staunch defender of straight ticket voting, even as I doubt its loss will affect Dems more than it will affect Republicans – and I have no doubt that the 2017 bill was passed for the express purpose of making it harder on Democrats. I mean, no one in the GOP had any problems with straight ticket voting when it clearly benefited their side.
I also think the claim that eliminating it is weak, given that Texas was an anomaly by having straight ticket voting, and even if voluminous evidence exists to show that the bill outlawing it was racially motivated, such issues didn’t bother SCOTUS in the redistricting and voter ID litigation. I’m fine with this aggressive approach – it puts the Republicans on the defensive, there’s always the chance something juicy comes out during discovery, and who knows, one or more of these might actually win despite my skepticism. I’m just going to keep my expectations in check. The Chron has more.