Texas Has a Long-Awaited Chance to Deliver a Knockout Blow to One-Punch, Straight-Ticket Voting
Not all Republicans or all Democrats think alike, nor are all candidates equally qualified for office. Yet, when a voter casts a one-punch, straight-ticket vote that is the message they send.
We hope this problematic practice is about to end.
The Texas House on Saturday approved House Bill 25 by an 88-57 margin to require voters to consider each race on the ballot independently and not vote straight party lines with a single swipe. Kudos to the measure’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton, and to House Speaker Joe Straus, for principled leadership in getting the bill this far. We urge the Senate to take up this measure quickly before this legislative session ends.
One-punch straight-ticket voting may seem convenient, but the problems it presents outweigh expedience. The undiscerning voter who simply votes for party labels unwisely puts party ahead of merit, a dangerous trade-off that undermines democracy.
One-punch voting plays into the hands of political partisans who want voters to concentrate political power in the hands of party operatives. Power should rest with informed voters, whose ballots should act as a check on partisan myopia.
No party has a monopoly on the best — or worst! — candidates. One-punch voting prevents discriminating the best from the worst.
Nothing in this legislation, it’s important to note, prevents a voter who truly wants to vote a straight ticket from doing so. HB 25 allows voters to cast their ballots for a single party’s candidates; it simply requires voters to do so with separate selections rather than with a single swipe.
One-punch voting also has defeated worthy incumbents in down-ballot offices based not on their record, but on the prevailing political winds. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has lamented that straight-ticket voting leaves qualified judicial candidates especially vulnerable to partisan politics.
“When partisan politics is the driving force, and the political climate is as harsh as ours has become, judicial elections make judges more political, and judicial independence is the casualty,” Hecht says.
It is time to break old habits. Forty states have determined that one-punch voting is archaic and have ended the practice. So too should Texas.
The last holdouts
In Dallas County, two-thirds of votes in the November 2016 election and 63 percent of ballots statewide were cast as one-punch, straight-ticket selections. Texas is among only 10 states to cling to this outdated practice.
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures
“When partisan politics is the driving force, and the political climate is as harsh as ours has become, judicial elections make judges more political, and judicial independence is the casualty.” — Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht