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Without Straight-Ticket Voting, Some Groups Might Skip Races In 2020, Study Finds

Voting signs
Salvador Castro for KUT
Signs are posted outside a polling place on UT campus in 2018.

Minorities and elderly voters will likely be the most affected by the elimination of straight-ticket voting in 2020, according to a new report from the Austin Community College Center for Public Policy and Political Studies.

In 2017, state lawmakers passed a law eliminating the ability for voters to cast just one vote for a party down the entire ballot. It doesn’t kick in until the 2020 election, though.

Stefan Haag, one of the study's authors, looked at what happened when other states eliminated straight-ticket voting.

“We found ... other states that eliminated straight-ticket voting were faced with a roll off,” Haag told KUT. That is, people are less likely to cast votes farther down the ballot.

He said roll off usually happens because of "voter fatigue" and that it's more prevalent among voters who are used to voting just once for a party, instead of going race by race. He said those voters are largely African American, but also Hispanic.

"In the large cities in Texas, we found the highest rates of straight-ticket voting," Haag said.   

If there is significant roll off, it will likely be in the state’s urban counties “because they have the largest number of partisan offices on the ballot,” the authors wrote.

Earlier this year, ACC’s Center for Public Policy and Political Studies found that a record level of people voted straight ticket in the 2018 election – almost 68%.

Haag said other states experienced roll-off rates as high as 30% after they eliminated straight-ticket voting.

“But I don’t anticipate that in Texas,” Haag said. “I don’t think it will be that high.”

According to the study, there are “contextual factors” that could reduce roll off in the state’s large urban counties – including how competitive a race is. Considering that elections in Texas are getting increasingly competitive, Haag said, roll-off rates likely won’t be as high as they've been in other states.

And as far as the political effects, Haag said, it’s hard to predict. While Democratic-leaning voters are more likely to vote straight ticket, both parties in Texas have benefitted from the option.

“Straight-ticket voting tends to be advantageous to particular areas where a party might be strong,” he said. “For example, in rural areas of Texas where then Republican Party is strong, straight-ticket voting tends to benefit the Republicans.”

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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