Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) filed House Bill 25, which would eliminate the option of voting for every candidate of a given party by making a single mark on the ballot, known as straight-party or straight-ticket voting. It is identical to House Bill 433, also filed by Simmons, but its new number suggests priority status.

Rep. Ron Simmons

Rep. Ron

Earlier this month, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) said he favored eliminating straight-party voting.

Texas is one of 10 states to use a straight-party option, and Texans use the straight-party option more than voters of any other state. More than 5.6M straight-party votes were cast in the November general election, up from just short of 5M straight-party votes cast in 2012 and 4.5M cast in 2008. In 2016, a record 63% of all votes cast were straight-party votes.

We estimate that Texans cast approximately 3M straight-party Republican and 2.5M straight-party Democratic votes, based on data collected from 243 counties. We estimate that Texans cast approximately 75K straight-party Libertarian and 30K straight-party Green votes, based on data collected from the state’s 25 most populous counties.

In 30 counties, at least two out of every three votes cast was a straight-party vote. This is more than triple the number of counties with similar straight-party voting rates in 2012 and potentially 10 times the number from 2008. High rates of straight-party voting are not limited to large counties. In Donley Co., more than four out of every five votes cast was a straight-party vote.

Counties with Straight-Party Voting Rates of at Least 66.6%

Aransas Co. – 68.4%
Brown Co. – 68.7%
Burleson Co. – 67.5%
Burnet Co. – 67.0%
Dallas Co. – 67.3%
Donley Co. – 81.3%
Eastland Co. – 69.3%
Ector – 66.9%
Fort Bend Co. – 77.5%
Gaines Co. – 71.5%
Gray Co. – 68.2%
Grimes Co. – 68.0%
Harris Co. – 67.8%
Henderson Co. – 71.3%
Hidalgo Co. – 68.4%
Jefferson Co. – 67.1%
Kaufman Co. – 66.8%
Leon Co. – 66.9%
Madison Co. – 69.1%
Marion Co. – 71.8%
Montgomery Co. – 70.8%
Parker Co. – 69.4%
Rains Co. – 74.4%
Reagan Co. – 67.8%
Tarrant Co. – 67.0%
Tom Green Co. – 69.2%
Waller Co. – 73.5%
Wise Co. – 70.5%
Wood Co. – 73.3%
Young Co. – 66.6%

Percentages for most counties outside the state’s 25 most populous exclude straight-party votes for the Libertarian and Green Parties, so some counties’ rates were higher than what is shown.

Because straight-party votes are neither counted nor requested by the Secretary of State, our analyses of straight-party voting rely on data collected from the 254 counties’ election administrators, county clerks or other county officials, supplemented with data we obtain from the Texas Legislative Council and Secretary of State. Not all counties record this data (or respond to requests for it), so our analyses necessarily include some estimates where data does not exist. This year, we received usable data from a record 243 of the 254 counties, covering 99.9% of all votes cast.

Most other states do not collect or report their straight-party votes either, so it takes time to put together comparable numbers for an election. We know that in 2012, the nearest state to Texas was Alabama at 51% of all votes cast, followed by Michigan (48%), South Carolina (47%), New Mexico (41%) and Oklahoma (39%). Since that election, New Mexico has ceased using the straight-party option and the Michigan Legislature repealed its straight-party law. That repeal was overturned by a federal court, so the option remained for Michigan voters in 2016 while the state appeals the ruling. Nine other states have repealed their straight-party voting laws since 1994.

Texas and Alabama are the only two states that utilize straight-party voting and select their judiciaries using partisan elections. Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has called for the judiciary to be excluded from straight-party voting. We have found that increasingly high rates of straight-party voting are resulting in very little spread between the highest and lowest shares of the vote among a party’s judicial candidates at any level of geography, leading to an increasing number of partisan sweeps.

A recent study by Rice University’s Mark Jones observed the same effect. Jones found that more than 90% of all Texas judges elected were part of a partisan sweep of judicial offices at the state, appellate district and county level from 2008 to 2016. Further, the trend is toward a greater percentage of partisan sweeps.

We have also observed a decreasing number of contested races on the general election ballot for county office. In 2016, a Democrat and a Republican contested a countywide office in just 55 of the state’s 254 counties. Not a single Democrat ran for any county office in 123 counties, and no Republican sought a county office in 12 counties.

Bills to limit or end straight-party voting, including one filed by Simmons, died in the House Committee on Elections last session after public testimony was taken on them. In 2009, Straus filed a bill to end straight-ticket voting. It did not receive a hearing. In 2013, then-Sen. Dan Patrick’s bill to exclude the judiciary from straight-party voting cleared the Senate State Affairs Committee on a 5-4 vote but did not reach the Senate floor.

©2017 Texas Election Source LLC