Federal Judge Blocks Elimination of One-Punch Voting in Texas

September 26, 2020 Updated: September 26, 2020

A federal judge in Texas blocked the state from enforcing a law that eliminated the ability of voters to choose one party’s entire slate of candidates, known as straight-ticket or one-punch voting.

U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo said in a memorandum and order (pdf) that removal of the straight-ticket voting (STV) option, which lets people cast their vote by making an initial selection based on their preferred party and which then automatically picks the party’s nominee in each race, put voters and election staff at a higher risk of contracting the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

“By causing mass lines at the polls and increasing the amount of time voters are exposed to COVID-19, HB 25 will cause irreparable injury to plaintiffs and ALL Texas voters in the upcoming general election,” she wrote, referring to the bill that was recently passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that removed the one-punch option in 2020.

Proponents of doing away with single-ticket voting argued that requiring individual selections of candidates on the ballot would encourage a more informed electorate, lead to more qualified candidates and better campaigns, and reduce voter confusion—arguments that Marmolejo called “underwhelming.”

“Eliminating STV does not prevent voters from casting a ballot exclusively for Democrats or exclusively for Republicans,” she wrote, adding, “keeping the STV option during the November general election does not prohibit voters from making individual selections and splitting their ticket.”

Marmolejo wrote that Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs, who sought to dismiss the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction blocking HB 25, also failed to show how eliminating the one-punch option would reduce voter confusion and “unintentional roll-off,” where people vote in partisan races but not in nonpartisan ones, which are typically at the end of the ballot.

Democrats sued to block enforcement of HB 25 in March, arguing the law disproportionately hurts black and Latino voters in big urban counties, where longer ballots mean longer wait times.

“Texas’s rules around voting during the pandemic have been perplexing,” Marmolejo wrote. “Administering in-person voting the same way it has been administered for 100 years is not about a mere convenience to voters, it is about running an efficient electoral process that guarantees Texans a more effective opportunity to cast a ballot in a time when any additional time spent in line endangers the safety of poll voters, poll workers, and others not at the polls.”

Marmolejo granted a preliminary injunction, blocking the enforcement of HB 25.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is expected to appeal the order.

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