The bill passed the House 89-45 (with 16 either abstaining or not voting). The Senate vote was 24-6, with one abstention. Interestingly, all the Nay votes in the Senate came from Republicans. My own senator, Democrat Borris Miles, voted Yea; my freshperson rep Shawn Thierry was one of ten House Democrats voting in favor.
That leaves the bill in the hands of Governor Abbott, who may still shock everyone by not signing it.
(By the way, stay tuned for an entry on the recent court decision on Maine's Ranked Choice Voting referendum. I wanted to include it here, but this story is huge.)
Democratic lawmakers argued the bill was another attempt by the Legislature to make voting more difficult for black and Latino voters, who often use straight-ticket voting. They made frequent references to recent court rulings that found the state acted with discriminatory intent in drafting electoral maps and a voter ID law in 2011. They hinted at further lawsuits if the bill passed.
Democrats said ballots in some counties include more than 100 races, and the bill would be detrimental to the sick and elderly by making them tick through every race rather than allowing them to vote for the party of their choice with a single punch. The bill would also harm turnout because it would make voting take longer in areas that don't have resources to handle large numbers of voters, they alleged.
But this Greenie sees one-punch voting as an anti-democratic institution that needs to die.
I H8 Str8 Tkt
It's not just the personal angle for me, having placed third in a two-way race in 2014: 400,000+ votes for Ed Emmett, 200,000+ undervotes, and 80,000+ votes for David B. Collins. (See page 26 of the November 2014 general election results in Harris County.) I can't even quantify how many of those undervotes were from one-punchers who didn't bother to look down the ballot. Long before I decided to run for public office, I despised straight-ticket voting in Texas, as well as in the handful of other states that still practice it.
Granted: After punching the straight-ticket vote, one can continue down the ballot to look at other races, especially races with no candidate from your preferred party. But when you're at the polling locations for hours, pushing your party's or candidate's propaganda, and you see the number of voters exiting two minutes after they entered, you know they're one-and-done. Even if you tell these voters straight-up, "Look down the ballot for races where your party has no candidate," most don't bother.
Also granted: Large metropolitan counties have boatloads of races for various district judge positions, and that most voters don't know how these candidates are, because judicial candidates by tradition do not campaign on issues. Thus voters must depend on party labels. In Harris County, there may be as many as 24 district judge races on the ballot. It is indeed burdensome to cast individual votes for all those unknown names.
One alternative to voting for every single judgeship is to boycott those races. The way Texas elects district judges county-wide may work for smaller counties, but for big urban counties it's just ludicrous.
Further granted: Counties may not have enough voting machines to handle more voters casting more votes and taking longer. Lines to vote may lengthen, further discouraging turnout.
So it's up to the counties to provide those voting machines and other resources, and it's up to Democrats to demand them. Of course, most Greens of my acquaintance favor voter-verifiable paper ballots anyway.
Those points aside, my reasons for supporting the elimination of one-punch include the following, in no particular order:
- If you cast a straight-Democrat vote, for example, and then leave, you miss the chance to vote for a Green or liberal/progressive Independent candidate. As legislative districts become more solidly blue or red, more of those districts have major parties that do not field candidates. I'm looking at you, House District 36.
- You also miss a chance to vote in any non-partisan races, including school district referenda, state constitutional amendments, and the like. These local ballot initiatives, like HISD's Robin Hood recapture proposition, affect people's lives more directly than whom they send to Congress.
- Republican voters, particularly in this heavily red state, wind up electing folks like Sid Miller, Ken Paxton, or Steve Mansfield to statewide offices because God forbid a qualified Democrat should get in.
- In all those county judicial races, candidates adopt party labels for convenience. When Harris County was a deeper shade of red, any candidate for a judgeship had to run as a Republican to have a chance of winning, regardless of their actual party affiliations or personal ideologies. Back when Texas was a one-party Jim Crow Democratic state, nobody running as a Republican had a chance. As the county turns bluer, I can envision hard-core conservatives and Lloyd Oliver types entering and winning Democratic primaries at the county level.
- For the above reasons and others, when Democratic operatives advise voters to punch a straight ticket, they are insulting those voters' intelligence AND depriving them of several voting opportunities. Not only have I witnessed Sheila Jackson Lee's volunteers telling people to vote straight-ticket Democrat (and been told to shove off when I objected), I have also seen her and other candidates' campaign sings encouraging straight-Democrat voting.
"Vote Straight-Ticket: It's Easier Than Thinking"
Is it too white-privilege-y to want to take one-punch voting away from African American and Latino voters who appreciate the convenience? Considering how hard our African American neighbors have fought to win their franchise, and how hard they continue to fight, why would they trivialize that hard-won vote? Why would they not educate themselves on the candidates and ballot questions?
Yes, it's difficult for working people to devote the time required even to vote, between work and kids and maybe caring for ailing grandparents and recovering from all that. They may also have community activism on the agenda, like the people in Sunnyside trying to stop the city moving their community center to a site atop an old landfill.
But those who value their votes and their rights should set the necessary time aside to learn for whom and for what they should vote. Perhaps they'll find candidates and parties with platforms designed to improve their lives, rather than a major party that says, "Vote for us because yeah, we kinda suck, but at least we're not that other major party!"
Monday night, at the monthly general meeting of the Harris County Green Party, one of our longtime members (I won't say who) made a comment expressing opposition to HB 25, essentially saying, Who's gonna vote if you take away that straight-ticket option and make it more difficult? I could not believe my ears. This person knew that I had seen, up close and personally, how straight-ticket voting hurts Green candidates. This person likely knew that a certain long-standing Texas Green, a member of our State Executive Committee, had been at the Capitol testifying in favor of the bill, had been tweeting up a storm about African American and Latino legislators speaking against it, even though straight-ticket is a legacy of the Jim Crow era.
Voting alone will not overturn a system that has created the oligarchy under which we now live. But as long as candidates even pretend to be concerned about their vote totals, we should continue to vote as if it actually means something—and get the information we need to cast an educated vote.