A Texas Senate panel approved legislation Thursday that would end straight-ticket voting in all elections.
The vote came less than a week after the House passed the legislation, mostly along party lines. Starting with the 2018 elections, the bill would take away the option for voters to automatically cast their ballot for every candidate from a single party.
Straight-ticket ballots made up almost 64 percent of total votes cast in the state’s 10 largest counties in 2016. Forty-one states don’t allow straight-ticket voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Senate committee initially left the bill pending Thursday morning. It later reconvened and passed the bill.
In the Thursday hearing, proponents of the bill — including its Senate sponsor, Hancock — said it would force voters to make more informed decisions when casting their ballots. Critics suggested it could lead to voting rights violations.
“We believe that this takes away one method of voting that minority voters overwhelmingly use to choose the candidates of their choice,” said Glen Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party.
Maxey also questioned why the bill wound up in the Business & Commerce Committee, not the State Affairs Committee. Such a maneuver is “what the federal courts have noted as abnormal legislative procedure,” Maxey said.
A federal judge blocked a similar law last year in Michigan, saying it would disproportionately affect black voters. After that ruling came up in Thursday’s hearing, Hancock noted that the Michigan law moved through a “completely different court system than we’ll move through” if HB 25 becomes law and it is challenged.
Hancock also sought to reassure critics of the bill who said it would lead to longer lines at polling places, saying more locations would solve the problem.
Opponents of HB 25 had a sympathetic audience Thursday in state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who said he was still trying to understand why Texas Republicans were pushing the proposal.
“I am shocked, quite frankly, that the people in charge of this state right now want to go there because they’re doing pretty damn good under the current system,” Whitmire said, referring to Texas’ GOP-dominated government.
Whitmire was one of the two Democrats who were absent when the committee voted on the bill. The other was state Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo.
The bill now heads to the full Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a former member, has previously proposed eliminating straight-ticket voting in only judicial races. His office has not responded to requests for comment on whether he supports ending the practice in all elections.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when House Bill 25 would be in effect. If passed, it would be in effect for the 2018 election.
Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune