Federal court tosses suit brought by Texas Democrats seeking to revive straight-ticket voting

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Super Tuesday voting lines at the Metropolitan Multi Service Center near downtown Houston on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

A federal judge on Wednesday threw out Democrats’ effort to reinstate the straight-ticket voting option in Texas.

Siding with the state, U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo found that Democrats lacked standing to challenge Texas Republicans’ decision to kill straight-ticket voting ahead of the November general election. The judge dismissed the federal lawsuit after ruling that Democrats' claims of the electoral fallout that could come from eliminating straight-ticket voting were too speculative.

The Texas Democratic Party — joined by the chair of the Webb County Democratic Party and the Democratic campaign arms of the U.S. Senate and House — filed the lawsuit in March on the heels of Super Tuesday voting that left some Texans waiting for hours to cast their ballots.

They claimed the elimination of straight-ticket voting is unconstitutional and intentionally discriminatory because the longer lines and waiting times it is expected to cause would be disproportionately felt at polling places that serve Hispanic and Black voters.

The popular practice allowed voters to mark their support for all of the candidates of either party in a general election by simply picking a straight-ticket option at the top of a ballot.

Most states don’t allow for one-punch voting, but its elimination in Texas met intense opposition from Democrats who feared the change would be most felt among voters of color and lead to voter dropoff, particularly in blue urban counties that have the longest ballots in the state. Texas Republican lawmakers championed a change to the law during the 2017 legislative session, arguing it would compel voters to make more-informed decisions because they would have to make a decision on every race on a ballot.

The change was signed into law almost three years ago, but a last-minute change to the legislation delayed its implementation until this year’s general election. Starting in November, candidates will still be listed with their party affiliation, but voters will have to select each candidate individually.