After Super Tuesday last week, many were wondering why voting took so long in parts ofTexas, especially in Harris County. Election officials said the long waits reflected last-minute surges of undecided voters and glitches in election procedures. But the Texas Democratic Party saw the so-called glitches as part of a bigger problem perpetuated by their rival party. Texas Democrats are now suing the state of Texas in federal court, charging that Republican lawmakers changed voting laws to intentionally cause longer wait times at polling places that serve larger proportions of Hispanic and black voters.
The suit centers around Texas’ elimination of straight-ticket voting, which used to give voters the option to vote for all candidates from one party in one quick selection on a voting machine. Straight-ticket voting is only possible in elections in which Republicans and Democrats run against one another, not in primary contests. That means the first Texas election without a straight-ticket voting option will be the general election in November.
James Dickey is chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. He says Democrats’ claim that Republicans changed voting laws to disenfranchise black and Hispanic voters is “absurd and offensive.”
Dickey claims the problem actually stems from Democrats who enacted Jim Crow laws decades ago to suppress votes by African Americans. What’s more, he says Texas Republicans have a 17-year record in the state legislature of making “dramatic improvements and increases in minority vote and turnout.”
Straight-ticket voting is uncommon in the U.S. these days. Dickey says only seven states continue to offer it. He says advocates of ending the practice say voters should choose among individual candidates rather than “blindly accept an entire slate.”
Dickey claims Democrats trained voters to cast straight-ticket ballots as a means of boosting all of that party’s candidates.
“That was a strategy they chose to implement, but it does not mean it was necessarily better or necessarily inherent,” Dickey says. “It was an approach they were using.”
Harris County election officials and Democrats criticized the decision to divide Republican and Democratic primary elections in the county, and to provide an equal number of voting machines to each party. Critics charge that this decision made lines longer in heavily Democratic voting locations like Texas Southern University in Houston. Dickey says the Texas Republican Party Platform advocates that party primaries be completely separate from one another.
“We argued publicly that you ought to use historical voting trends to decide the ratios of machines at each polling location, and … the Democrat leadership in charge in both Dallas and Harris Counties decided to go one to one because they thought that was most fair,” Dickey says.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.