Texas

Texans: This year is your last chance to ‘one punch’ a ballot. Will you take it?

Lines to vote might grow a little longer when the chance to cast a straight ticket is gone in 2020. This November is the last time Texas voters can vote a straight ticket. This file photo shows a line to vote at North Hi Mount Elementary in 2016.
Lines to vote might grow a little longer when the chance to cast a straight ticket is gone in 2020. This November is the last time Texas voters can vote a straight ticket. This file photo shows a line to vote at North Hi Mount Elementary in 2016. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Do you find yourself voting a straight ticket in the general election?

If so, enjoy yourself this November.

It’s the last time you’ll be able to head to the polls in Texas and check just one box to give every candidate from one political party your vote.

The option of straight-ticket voting, also known as “one punch” ballots, will be gone before the next general election in 2020, under a bill passed by the Texas Legislature last year.

“Straight party voting was the mantra for generations in Texas,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a TCU political science professor. “The Democrats controlled every election from the courthouse to the White House among Texans from the end of Reconstruction until the election of Bill Clements in 1978.

“The mantra was ‘make it emphatic, vote straight Democratic,’” he said. “But in recent years, there has been more straight party voting among Republicans in Texas than among Democrats.”

Early voting for this year’s Nov. 6 midterm election runs from Oct. 22-Nov. 2.

Through the years, hundreds of thousands of Tarrant County voters have used the straight ticket option in general elections.

State lawmakers say they want Texas voters to read the entire ballot, make choices all the way down, and vote on propositions at the end.

Supporters say this new law will make Texans research candidates up and down the ballot and be more informed about who they support.

Opponents say there are better ways to make sure voters research candidates than removing the straight ticket voting option, which could dramatically increase Election Day lines and the time it takes to vote.

The law goes into effect Sept. 1, 2020, just in time for the next presidential election.

Tarrant trends

State lawmakers for decades have talked about eliminating straight ticket voting in Texas, hoping it would keep voters from forgetting about propositions at the end of the ballot.

During the last midterm election in 2014, more than 17 percent of Texans who cast votes in the governor’s race did not vote for a proposition regarding transportation funding, House Research Organization data shows.

This new law “encourages voters to learn about all the candidates vying for their vote, up and down the ballot,” said state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who carried the bill in the upper chamber. “Of course, voters have every right to continue casting their vote for all candidates of one political party, and political party will continue to be identified next to each candidate name on the ballot.”

There are no statewide straight ticket voting records.

But a look at election records in Tarrant County shows that more locals than ever used this option in 2016.

That’s when nearly 450,000 local voters — including 246,991 Republicans and 193,139 Democrats — cast straight tickets. That’s more than in 2014 when nearly 245,000 voters, including 148,745 Republicans and 93,351 Democrats, chose that option.

And it’s higher than the previous presidential election in 2012, when more than 404,000 local voters — including 233,598 Republicans and 166,916 Democrats — cast straight ticket votes. In 2010, around 232,000 locals, including 146,280 Republicans and 84,360 Democrats, chose that option.

“In the state’s most populous counties voters are routinely asked to vote in between 50 and 100 separate races, a process which is very time consuming and informationally demanding if done race by race,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “Providing voters with the straight-ticket option saves them time in the polling booth and especially saves them time in line at polling places.”

Looming impact

Despite the rise in straight ticket votes in Tarrant County, many say they now tend to vote issue by issue, not by party.

Even so, there likely will be a big impact when the straight ticket option goes away in Texas.

“I suspect there will be slightly higher rates of split ticket voting as voters are forced to look at names down ballot,” Riddlesperger said. “One would expect there will be a falloff in voting the farther down the ballot one goes as there becomes ‘voter fatigue’ and as voters begin to realize they know little about down ballot races.

“That may be a good thing — with fewer uninformed votes.”

And voting likely will take Texans longer.

“Unless substantially more funds are provided by the state to the counties to purchase additional voting machines, establish more voting locations and hire more poll workers, beginning in 2020, Texans can expect to wait in much longer lines to vote,” Jones said.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley
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