JThe House concurred in the Senate’s amendment to House Bill 25 by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), sending the measure to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. The bill would end the practice of voting for all of a party’s candidates using a single punch, mark or other action. Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), the bill’s Senate sponsor, added an amendment delaying implementation until 2020.
The unofficial final vote was 89-45 in favor of concurring. The ayes included several Democrats and Republicans who opposed the measure earlier this month. Democratic Reps. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville), Mary Ann Perez (D-Houston), Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), Richard Raymond (D-Laredo), Shawn Thierry (D-Houston), Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) and Hubert Vo (D-Houston) voted for concurrence. Of those representatives, only Pickett previously voted for the bill.
Reps. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake), Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth), Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), Mike Schofield (R-Katy) and Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) voted against concurrence. Gooden, Klick, Phillips and Schofield previously voted against the bill.
Once a fairly common practice, single-punch straight-party voting is currently available in just 10 states, including Texas. If Gov. Abbott signs the bill, Texas would become the 12th state to pass legislation or otherwise administratively act to end the practice since 1994.
However, a federal court stayed Michigan’s 2015 repeal in July, ruling that ending the single-punch option placed “a disproportionate burden on African-Americans’ right to vote.” A three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Court of Appeals denied the state’s request to have that ruling stayed, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the state’s emergency appeal. Thus, single-punch voting remained in place for the 2016 general election, and the case remains at the district court for an eventual hearing on its merits.
During committee hearings, witnesses representing the Texas Democratic Party and the Texas NAACP raised the possibility that similar litigation would follow the Texas bill, particularly in light of recent rulings that the state intentionally discriminated when imposing voter ID requirements and drawing congressional and legislative districts. Democratic legislators made similar assertions during floor debate in each chamber.
No litigation lodged against the other states that have repealed or stopped using single-punch voting has thus far been successful, and 30 other states have not had a single-punch option in at least a generation. We looked into the recent results of repealing single-punch voting in North Carolina and found no significant impacts.
One of the key arguments in the Michigan case ties ending single-punch voting (and taking longer to go through a ballot) with historically longer lines in African-American precincts, which could result in even longer lines, and the fact that Michigan does not have early voting. In other words, almost all of the state’s voters must cast their ballots on Election Day at their specific polling place.
Texas has a two-week period for voting early in person. In 2016, almost three quarters of all voters cast their ballots early. In most larger counties, voters could vote in any location offering early voting. Several large counties also utilize vote centers and permit Election Day voters to use any of them.
Potential plaintiffs have time to develop their case. Single-punch voting remains an option for the 2018 general election.
Note: Jeff Blaylock, publisher of Texas Election Source, is on record as being in favor of House Bill 25.