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Politics

Are Texas Lawmakers Going to Ditch Straight-Ticket Voting? Probably Not.

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Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
/
KUT
Texas is one of 10 states that allow a voter to choose a single political party’s entire slate of candidates in one vote. ";

Last week some prominent Republicans said Texas should get rid of straight-ticket voting. Texas is one of only 10 states in the U.S. that allow a person to vote once for one political party straight down the ballot.

Even though some members of the GOP don’t like the practice, it’s unlikely the party will get rid of it, however.

Republican Nathan Hecht, the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, told members of the Texas Legislature last week that judicial elections were becoming too political.

“When partisan politics is the driving force and the political climate is as sharp as ours has become, judicial elections make judges more political,” he said, “and the judicial independence is the casualty.”

In Texas, state Supreme Court justices, and in fact all judges, are elected in partisan elections, which is pretty rare compared to the rest of the country. Combine that with the fact that Texas has straight-ticket voting, and Hecht says we've got a problem.

He told lawmakers there’s no perfect solution, but “removing judges from straight-ticket voting would help some. Merit selection followed by nonpartisan retention elections would help more.”

Shortly after Hecht’s speech, House Speaker Joe Straus, who is also a Republican, said “we shouldn't stop there.”

“Texas should join 40 other states and end straight-ticket voting in all elections,” he said in a statement.

A lot of people in Texas think this is a great idea -- for example, those running as third-party candidates.

Kevin Ludlow has run as a Libertarian for a seat in the Texas House a couple times now. Each time, he says, he brings up straight-ticket voting.

“That’s something that I have campaigned against rigorously,” he says. “It’s something that I campaign against tirelessly. It’s one of the biggest issues that I talk about.”

Ludlow says it’s one of his biggest hurdles in getting votes, too. During general elections, including this last one, he says, more than half of the ballots cast are straight ticket.

Ludlow says elections are increasingly being decided by what’s happening at the top of the ticket.

“We, as a society, and the media is top culprit of this, [have] a focus on -- in this particular case – Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton,” he says. “And nobody really pays note to what’s going on at the bottom.”

According to a recent study from the Austin Community College Center for Public Policy & Political Studies, straight-ticket voting is now “the dominant factor in determining the outcome of general elections in Texas.”

Authors of the study also say that since 2008 its dominance has only grown.

But straight-ticket voting has helped both parties at this point, which doesn’t bode well for any efforts to eliminate it.

Republicans have held onto control of state offices partly thanks to straight tickets, and Democrats have kept power in urban counties because of it.

That’s why researchers conclude the practice likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

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