Will the end of straight-ticket voting stifle the Democratic wave in Texas?

by | Jan 24, 2020 | Politics, Voting

For the first time this November, Texans will head to the ballot box without the option to vote straight-ticket for one party

It means voters will have to manually select individual candidates instead of checking a box to vote for an entire party’s list of candidates. Texas joins 42 other states in abolishing the straight-ticket voting practice.

Texas Republicans, sensing the writing on the wall after seeing Democratic gains in the 2016 election, passed a law in the following legislative session to end straight-ticket voting in the state. 

“It was absolutely passed by the Republican legislature as a voter suppression tactic,” Royce Brooks, the executive director of Annie’s List, a group that trains and organizes progressive women candidates around the state, told the Signal. “Now, whether it will end up being a successful one remains to be seen.”

To adjust to the elimination of straight-ticket voting, Brooks said candidates will have to depend less on high-turnout presidential elections and put more emphasis on getting their name out. “We’re seeing field practices and field scripts that reflect that importance,” Brooks said. “They need to make sure they are making a case for themselves as an individual candidate.”

“The greatest effect of the elimination of straight-ticket voting will probably not be the elimination of Texans voting for all candidates of one political party—the essence of straight-ticket voting,” wrote the authors of one Austin Community College study. Instead, they argued and other studies have shown that voters will likely spend more time in voting booths and voting lines because they have to select individual candidates. The lack of straight-ticket voting may contribute to increased drop-off in down ballot races, particularly in the state’s large urban counties with long ballots that include many judicial races.

Additionally, there is recent evidence that abolishing straight-ticket voting didn’t spoil the fun in one high turnout swing state. In 2017, Iowa’s Republican-led legislature banned straight-ticket voting in their state too, but unlike Texas, it went into effect one year earlier during the 2018 midterms.

The good news: the offensive by Iowa Democrats that year was largely unaffected by the elimination of straight-ticket voting, according to election data viewed by Laura Belin, a progressive politics reporter in Iowa.

“For congressional elections and the state legislative races, the drop-off in down-ballot votes wasn’t noticeably bigger, and in some cases, it was smaller than the 2014 midterm elections when we did have the straight-ticket option,” Belin told the Signal. 

“I was stunned. I mean, I thought that would have been almost impossible,” Belin said, noting that the state Democratic party did a good job of boosting the profile of down-ballot candidates and warning voters about the new ballot changes.

Despite the sudden end to straight-ticket voting in Iowa, Democrats ended up flipping two out of four U.S. House seats and a couple of state house seats.

Come November, it’s possible the removal of straight-ticket may negatively impact Democratic races furthest down the ballot, as some have predicted. In truth, we won’t know until then. Regardless, the ballot box tweak won’t change the concrete political shift occurring in the state, nor the obvious truth that Republicans are losing seats, with or without straight-ticket voting. 

Photo: Jay Phagan: Wikimedia Commons

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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