Federal Judge Strikes Down Texas’ Straight-Ticket Voting Ban, Citing COVID-19

A UT law professor doubts the ruling will survive an appeal by the Texas attorney general.

By Jill Ament & Shelly BrisbinSeptember 28, 2020 6:57 am, , ,

Election officials are scrambling after a federal judge last week blocked the elimination of straight-ticket voting in Texas, which was to start this November.

Republicans pushed for the 2017 law change to stop voters from choose one ballot option to cast votes for all single candidates of a single party.

But on Friday, U.S. District Judge U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo, siding with Democrats, ruled that elimination of straight ticket voting this year would  “cause irreparable injury” to voters “by creating mass lines at the polls and increasing the amount of time voters are exposed to COVID-19.” In  the 2018 general election, roughly two-thirds of all voters used the straight-ticket option. 

With only three weeks before early voting starts in Texas on Oct. 13, the matter could reverse again. That’s because Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a motion to stop the judge’s order and has appealed the ruling.

Judge Marmolejo basically said, especially given the public health concerns that arise from having people in the some indoor spaces for such a long period of time, this justifies putting implementation of this law on hold until after the November election,”  said Steve Vladeck, the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts at the University of Texas School of Law. 

Vladeck explained that Marmolejo found that the elimination of straight-ticket voting would have a discriminatory effect on Black and Hispanic voters.  He added that because those voters tend to live in jurisdictions with the longest ballots, the judge found, that eliminating the ability to vote a straight-ticket would force Black and Hispanic voters into longer lines at polling places.

Vladeck said the closeness of the ruling to Election Day represents “chaos” for officials and for voters. Ballots have already been printed and, in some cases, mailed to eligible voters.

“I think that’s going to be one of the strongest arguments the state has when it goes to the Fifth Circuit, the federal appeals court,” Vladeck said. 

He said he believes the federal appeals court will stay Marmolejo’s order, allowing the election to proceed under the law that eliminated straight-ticket voting in Texas. 

“I think it’s easy to be sympathetic to Judge Marmolejo’s decision,” he said. “I think it’s unlikely that decision’s still going to be on the books when Texans start going to the polls.”

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