Texas has a new way to make voting harder

Texas’s latest restrictive voting bill, a ban on straight-ticket voting, was approved by the state Senate Wednesday in a 20-10 vote. Straight-ticket voting allows voters to select every candidate from their preferred party by pressing one button.

Backers of the Texas bill said the goal is to get voters to engage with down-ballot races. “What we’re doing is showing every race matters,” said state Sen. Kelly Hancock , a Republican.*

But eliminating straight-ticket voting is likely to increase the time it takes to vote. That could lead to longer lines, deterring some voters, and perhaps hitting blacks and Hispanics hardest. Some Democrats say that’s the idea.

And the impact may fall hardest on certain groups. Michigan’s ban on straight-ticket voting was blocked last year as racially discriminatory, after a court found that blacks in the state were much likelier to use it than whites.

A recent study of straight-ticket voting in Texas found that the two parties’ share of the straight-ticket vote was almost equal last fall. But Texas’s demographics are changing fast, and the study also found that the Republican share appears to be decreasing while the Democratic share appears to be increasing. And there was some evidence that straight-ticket voting is increasingly popular with Hispanics.

And a Democratic study put out this month of Texas’s two largest counties, Harris and Dallas, found that precincts or House districts with higher minority populations had higher rates of straight-ticket voting.

“The large increase in African-American and Hispanic populations in the big urban counties has coincided with the number of Democratic straight party ballots cast exceeding the number of Republican straight party ballots cast,” wrote Matt Angle, the Texas Democratic consultant behind the study, “thus minority voters began to elect their candidates of choice in county-wide elections.”

Angle called the current bill “likely an acknowledgment by Republican leaders that straight ticket voting is being used effectively by minority voters.”

Already, Texas’s strict voter ID law and its redistricting plan have been found to have intentionally discriminated against racial minorities. As a result, a federal judge is considering whether to put the state back under federal supervision for its voting policies.

The state also severely restricted voter registration activities in 2011.

The straight-ticket voting bill has already passed the House. It now must pass a second Senate vote, then go back to the House. It would then go to Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, who hasn’t yet taken a position on it.

*CORRECTION: This post originally, and incorrectly, attributed the quote ““What we’re doing is showing every race matters,” to Sen. Royce West, and identified West as a Republican who supports the bill. He’s a Democrat, and he opposes it.

 

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