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Suddenly Straight-Party Voting Is A Hazard To Democracy

Strange things have been happening in Texas politics over the past two years. In November 2006 the Democratic Party made a complete sweep in Dallas County – replacing every Republican office holder with a Democrat, including every judge up for election that year. In November 2008 the same thing happened, not only in Dallas County, but to a large extent in Harris County (Houston) also.

So what is the Republican plan to thwart this surge of Democratic winners? You might have guessed the plan would be to remodel the Republican party platform and get more in line with what the public is obviously wanting. But no, the Republican plan is to abolish straight-party voting in Texas. This was never an issue when the Republicans were winning every election, but now suddenly straight-party voting is an affront to democracy.

So a bill has been proposed in the Texas House, and the conservative Dallas Morning News is all for it, as noted in a recent editorial. Excerpts:

We wholeheartedly agree, and we commend the San Antonio lawmaker for introducing a bill to abolish straight-ticket voting in Texas, which is one of only 17 states that still permit voters to choose a party’s entire slate of candidates with one mark on the ballot. As we’ve noted in our five-part Be a Smart Voter editorial series, straight ticket voting is lazy citizenship.

We urge the Texas Legislature to pass Rep. Straus’ bill when it reconvenes in January.

Political parties advocate straight-ticket voting because it allows them to “hide” unqualified candidates in the hope that party loyalty will sweep the candidate into office. Requiring voters to go race by race through the ballot encourages more thoughtful decisions and, therefore, smarter choices.

It’s important to note that nothing in the bill would prohibit voters from casting all their votes with one party if they wish. It would simply make it less convenient to do so; they’d have to manually designate their vote in each individual race.

Also important is the fact that eliminating the voting-with-a-single-mark option would reduce the chance that voters would overlook on a long ballot an important bond measure or other nonpartisan issue.

Although straight-ticket voting is declining nationally, about 64 percent of the votes cast in Dallas County on Nov. 4 were straight-ticket decisions. This year, straight-ticket voting provided long coattails for Democratic candidates in the county. In other years, the coattails have been equally long for Republican candidates. Straight-ticket voting is lazy voting, regardless of which party has the coattails.

Texans should make wise, informed and principled decisions based on the character and talent of individual candidates. It’s time to end the straight-ticket voting option in Texas.

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

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