Texas Bill to Eliminate Straight-Ticket Voting Passes Committee

On March 13, the Texas House Elections Committee passed HB 25, the bill to eliminate the straight-ticket device. The five Republicans on the committee voted “yes”; the two Democrats voted “no.”

Many witnesses testified in favor of the bill. Election officials from several large counties pointed out problems caused by the straight-ticket device. Some voters use the straight-ticket device but then vote for an individual nominee from the same party, just to emphasize that they want to vote for that individual. But that action actually erases the effect of the straight ticket device for that one particular nominee, which causes the voter to not vote for that race.

The League of Independent Voters, the Libertarian Party, and the Green Party testified for the bill. The only two groups that testified against it were the Democratic Party and the NAACP. Thanks to Jim Riley for this news.


Comments

Texas Bill to Eliminate Straight-Ticket Voting Passes Committee — 12 Comments

  1. “But that action actually erases the effect of the straight ticket device for that one particular nominee, which causes the voter to not vote for that race.”

    Huh? Here in Michigan, that’s called a “split ticket”, and the exception to the straight-ticket rule does indeed get the vote the voter indicated. BTW, If you don’t pick the straight-ticket device at all, and just vote for whoever you want each by each, that’s a “mixed ticket”. See, e.g.:

    http://www.lwvmi.org/voting/FAQ/voting-politicalParties.html

  2. Remember, the example the blog post mentions is when the voter pulls the straight-ticket device for one particular party, and then also votes for the SAME party nominee for one particular office. I think you are thinking of instances when the vote for the straight-ticket device is a different party than the vote for one particular nominee.

  3. @John Anthony La Pietra,

    This occurs on DRE voting machines.

    The way you vote for a candidate is to click on the box next to their name. The way you unvote for someone is to click a second time. This is consistent with graphical user interfaces which have a check box.

    If you vote for a second candidate, your vote is switched, so as to prevent overvotes. AFAIK, Texas does not have any multiposition elections. If there are multiple seats, they are contested by position, so that candidates would file for Position 1, Position 2, etc., and you can vote for one person for each position.

    With DRE voting machines, when you select a party, all of the candidates of the party are automatically selected.

    As you go through the races, you can vote for someone who belongs to another party, and your vote for that candidate overrides the straight ticket party selection. But if you vote for the candidate of your party, then that is interpreted as an attempt to cancel the vote for that candidate.

    On a paper ballot, you might be encouraged simply to mark the straight ticket box and leave (“One and Done” or “Two and Through” were slogans used when the voting boxes were numbered). But Republican voters were also encouraged to vote for every candidate because corrupt Democratic election judges would mark overrides in individual races. Democrats would mark “emphasis votes” or “for sure” votes to indicate they really liked an individual candidate.

    The difference is that a paper ballot is simply interpreted after the voter makes their marks, regardless whether a voter understands what they are doing.

    A DRE is intended to assist a voter. It forces a voter to go through the entire ballot, since the “cast vote” button is not enable until the final screen. When a voter clicks on a candidate who was pre-selected by the straight ticket device, they are warned that this might cancel their vote. This may confuse voters.

    In addition, they are shown a summary screen, which might show that they have voted for someone else, or would show that they had not voted in a certain race.

    In reality, the straight ticket device may confuse voters, and they can easily enough vote for every candidate of a party. In Texas, it is a residual from a period when paper ballots were used, and they had party columns. A vote would be cast by crossing through the name of candidates you wanted to vote for. But you could also draw a vertical line down a party column through all candidates of the party (or you could skip some candidates). This evolved from the system used prior to adoption of the Australian ballot, when parties would print ballots with the names of their candidates. A voter who didn’t want for every candidate of a party would have to make their own ballot or edit the party ballot.

  4. Thanks to both for the explanations of how this actually works (or, rather, doesn’t work) in Texas.

    I would still think that there is nothing requiring that an “emphasis vote” should cancel out a straight-ticket vote . . . and if a DRE is set up to do that, then — if a voter has chosen the straight-ticket device to start with — the screen should be showing the X or check mark for the very-preferred candidate as soon as that race comes up, so the voter will know they’ve already got a vote there. Heck, a decent program should provide a warning to voters that this action would change a vote they’ve already indicated they wanted to cast.

  5. Imagine that you voted a straight Green ticket, but for some personal reason did not support the Green nominee for some down-ballot office. At the same time, you don’t want to vote for a duopoly candidate, and there is no Libertarian or independent candidate for that office. You truly don’t want to vote for anyone.

    So the question is how does a machine distinguish between clicking on the Green candidate. Does it mean that you are sending a virtual bouquet or virtual daggers to the nominee?

    The voting machine only has six controls. Two arrow buttons are used to page through the races; one is a Help button, one is the cast ballot button used only when you are truly done.

    The most active controls are a Select wheel which is somewhat like a phone dial, which a voter uses to position the cursor at a candidate, and a Enter button used to vote for a candidate.

    When you come to an office, the office is highlighted (e.g. GOVERNOR), with the candidates listed underneath. You use the Select wheel to highlight the candidate you want to vote for, and then use the Enter button to vote for the candidate. Once you vote for an office, you are automatically advanced to the next office.

    When you select the Straight Ticket box, all the nominees of the party are highlighted. So when you get to the governor’s race you might see:

    GOVERNOR

    [ ] Debbie Dim (D)
    [ ] Randy Repoman (R)
    [X] Gary Greene (G)

    The machine can’t just skip past the race, because the voter might want to vote for someone else. And the voter might not recognize what the [X] means – I think it is actually a colored box, while the others are white boxes. They might not understand that they are getting visual confirmation of a vote.

    You can vote for Dim or Repoman and your vote preliminary vote for Greene will be overridden and you will be advanced to the next race. You could simply scroll to the next race, in effect accepting the vote for Greene.

    But what happens if you press Enter when selecting Greene? If you had not done a straight ticket, then that means you want to unvote for Greene.

    It is really an impossible situation. The current programming is to give a warning that a vote is being changed. But the warning itself could be confusing.

    This has been litigated. A federal district court ruled that the implementation was lawful, but that Dallas County should have got Section 5 preclearance. The Dallas County elections administrator appealed the decision to the SCOTUS, but the court did not take the case because by the time the case was appealed, the county had got preclearance. Dallas County (John Wiley Price and Clay Jenkins) used this as a pretext to force the elections administrator out.

  6. I can imagine your scenario — but I can imagine just as easily that the programming is done right, that warnings/alerts say what they mean clearly and simply (a DRE should be able to do this in any language used for the voting in the first place), and that voters who have to use DREs have the assistance they need if something *isn’t* clear.

    But then, considering the key word here, I wouldn’t be too surprised if someone says I’m a dreamer. . . .

  7. (Oh, and one follow-up question: does the DRE give voters the option of writing someone in? If so, then if I’m in that situation of wanting to vote straight ticket minus one, that might be what I’d do — vote someone as a write-in, even myself, whether or not that vote would be counted.)

  8. In Texas, write-in candidates must file. For offices other than President, a petition or fee is needed. For president, you only have to supply 38 electors and a vice president. If there are no write-in candidates for an office, there is no write-in space.

    On the DRE that I am familiar with, you vote for “write-in” and are then presented a virtual keyboard. You use the Select wheel and Enter button to spell out the name letter by letter. One advantage of this, is that the write-in names are digitized. On the review screen, you are shown the name as you entered it, just as if you had voted for an on-ballot candidate. In previous elections, it was decided that once a particular spelling was accepted, all identical spellings would be counted. If you were a write-in candidate, you can imagine how many variations of Lapeter and Peetruh might be used.

  9. One of the first things that you do is select a language. Harris County is required to produce ballots in four languages, English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese (Mandarin). Of course, someone who can’t read English might not be able to read any language. Many people who can’t read develop coping skills, so that they aren’t seen as not being able to read. They might not vote – and say that they don’t care, or will figure out how to vote so that they don’t have to ask questions. They might listen carefully, and realize to press the RED button, rather than the red CAST BALLOT button.

    What is clear and simple to you might not be so simple to someone else. Think back to Florida 2000. The butterfly ballot was not intended to confuse. It was intended to help persons with declining nearsightedness who forgot their reading glasses, or were too vain to use them. If the election official had explained the layout and the rationale to someone, they might have been thanked for considering elderly voters and the clever solution of the butterfly ballot. If you knew why the butterfly ballot was used, you wouldn’t have had any problem. And upward of 90% of voters had no problems.

    Some counties used mark sense ballots, and because the counties were small with relatively few races, the ballots used a small form factor (which required smaller, cheaper, scanners). The default ballot layout program split the presidential race into two columns, and it happened that the second column only had a Wobblie candidate and the write-in space. But quite a few voters voted the second column “race”, choosing a candidate and a party they had never heard of for an unknown office.

  10. My point with a write-in vote was that anything you wrote in would be an acceptable alternative in your hypothetical (neither the one Green you didn’t want nor anybody else on the ballot would get a vote from you, whether or not the person written in did). But thanks for the explanation of how it’s done in Texas.

  11. I am so glad this bill passed. Some family court judges are horribly biased, but kept getting re-elected by straight ticket voting. This bill will eliminate bad judges.

  12. I went down to the capitol and watched all the testimony.

    A Republican ex-judge from Harris County testified in favor of the bill. She said that she had a long record of holding trials; and that she had lots of endorsements; and that her Democratic opponent had much less (or no) record as a trial judge; but that her Democratic opponent got enough straight-ticket votes to win the election.

    It’s hard to tell whether any committee member was swayed by any testimony or whether they all made up their minds in advance and then invite witnesses favorable to their position. (To be sure, uninvited witnesses can register and speak, too, of course.) Either way, though, some Republicans in Texas felt their ox getting gored by the straight-ticket device.

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