Partisan efficiency experts might love the time-saving charms of straight-ticket voting, but a number of the state’s top elected officials are ready to outlaw the practice. Straight-ticket, or one-punch, voting allows people to cast a ballot for all of one party’s candidates with one pull of the lever, stroke of the pencil or click of the voting button. Its requires partisan faith on the part of a voter, an expression of trust in a party’s primary voters, a conviction that the chosen candidates — no matter who they are, what they’ve done and whether they are qualified — are better than candidates offered by the opposition party. And it makes the coattails of the people at the top of the ballot very, very influential. Just ask a judge. “I will say only a word about judicial selection, but it is a word of warning,” Texas Supreme Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said this week in his State of the Judiciary speech. “In November, many good judges lost solely because voters in their districts preferred a presidential candidate in the other party.”
“These kinds of partisan sweeps are common, with judicial candidates at the mercy of the top of the ticket. I do not disparage our new judges,” Hecht said. “I welcome them. My point is only that qualifications did not drive their election; partisan politics did. Such partisan sweeps are demoralizing to judges and disruptive to the legal system. But worse than that, 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.”
State Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, has filed legislation — House Bill 433 —to end straight-ticket voting in Texas. He might have some angels: House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have both sponsored bans in the past. Both remain critical of one-punch voting.
The major political parties are reluctant to part with it, however — it’s part of the regulatory advantage that makes the Republicans and the Democrats appear to offer the only viable choices for Americans — or Texans — who want to take part in civic life.