Federal Judge Seeks to Impose Straight-Ticket Voting at Texas Polls
A federal district judge on Friday ordered Texas election officials to implement straight-ticket voting for the November polls, even though the state legislature passed a law three years ago eliminating the practice.
According to U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo, the absenceof straight-ticket voting — the option to tick one box to vote for a slate of either Republican or Democratic candidates — is illegal under the U.S. Constitution and Voting Rights Act.
When Texas lawmakers eliminated straight-ticket voting in 2017, they said the change would compel voters to make more informed decisions.
Third parties hailed the move, arguing that straight-ticket voting helps to entrench the power of the two dominant parties, and doesn’t give well-qualified independent or third-party candidates a fair chance to compete.
Only six states currently allow for straight-ticket voting. But what’s legal in 43 other states is racist and illegal in Texas, according to Judge Marmolejo. Her injunction dated September 25 is directed only to Texas election officials, not to those of other states.
Marmolejo wrote that it would be racially discriminatory for Texas to implement the three-year old law because “eliminating a practice that Texan voters have been accustomed to for 100 years is… likely to cause confusion among voters.”
She added that forcing voters to make individual selections about each choice on the ballot would lead to longer lines and wait times during a pandemic and create health risks for Blacks and Hispanics, who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Court finds that Plaintiffs make a plausible showing that eliminating (straight-ticket voting) would impose a discriminatory burden on African-American and Hispanic voters and create comparatively less opportunities for these voters to participate in the political process,” she wrote.
Marmolejo’s order comes after election officials already printed ballots. It would force them to recalibrate voting machines, which no longer have the straight-ticket option. But she said that these were mere “inconveniences,” and could be fixed.
The plaintiff in the case is the Texas Association for Retired Americans and the defendant is Ruth Hughes, the Texas Secretary of State, who is the state’s top election official.
Texas will appeal the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Attorney General’s Office said Saturday that it had filed a motion to stay the order, and planned an “an immediate appeal of the district court’s ruling in order to defend the integrity of Texas’s electoral process and a practice used in 43 other states.”
U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo was nominated by President Barack Obama on January 5, 2011, and confirmed by a voice vote in the U.S. Senate on October 3, 2011. She serves in the Laredo Division of the Southern District of Texas.