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Texas 2020 Elections

Federal court tosses suit brought by Texas Democrats seeking to revive straight-ticket voting

Siding with the state, U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo found that Democrats lacked standing to overturn Texas Republicans’ decision to kill straight-ticket voting ahead of the November general election.

Super Tuesday voting lines at the Metropolitan Multi Service Center near downtown Houston on Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

A federal judge on Wednesday threw out Democrats’ effort to reinstate the straight-ticket voting option in Texas.

Siding with the state, U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo found that Democrats lacked standing to challenge Texas Republicans’ decision to kill straight-ticket voting ahead of the November general election. The judge dismissed the federal lawsuit after ruling that Democrats’ claims of the electoral fallout that could come from eliminating straight-ticket voting were too speculative.

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 — filed the lawsuit in March on the heels of Super Tuesday voting that left some Texans waiting for hours to cast their ballots.

They claimed 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.

The popular practice allowed voters to mark their support for all of the candidates of either party in a general election by simply picking a straight-ticket option at the top of a ballot.

Most states don’t allow for one-punch voting, but its elimination in Texas met intense opposition from Democrats who feared the change would be most felt among voters of color and lead to voter drop-off, particularly in blue urban counties that have the longest ballots in the state. 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.

The change was signed into law almost three years ago, but a last-minute change to the legislation delayed its implementation until this year’s general election. Starting in November, candidates will still be listed with their party affiliation, but voters will have to select each candidate individually.

In her order, Garcia Marmolejo ruled that that Democrats’ predictions about the negative effects the lack of straight-ticket voting would have on voters and the election process were “uncertain to occur.” She also found fault with their assumptions that the Texas secretary of state and local officials would not work to “ameliorate the situation.”

Garcia Marmolejo also pointed to the likelihood that in-person voting would be transformed by the new coronavirus, which has led to long lines in other states where elections have already occurred during the pandemic, regardless of whether straight-ticket voting was eliminated.

“Considering the pandemic has already caused long lines at polling-places, many Texans will endure longer lines at polling places indefinitely, irrespective of any order issued by this Court,” she wrote. “And other Texans will experience shorter lines given that voters have been encouraged to steer clear from in-person voting where possible.”

Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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