Ending one-punch straight-party voting will be good for Texas

We who seek representation for 5 million or more Texas voters who are independent or minor party voters are ecstatic that House Bill 25 passed during the 2017 legislative session and was signed by the governor. This bill eliminates one-punch straight-party voting in Texas, a practice only available in nine other states.

Public dissatisfaction with U.S. electoral politics is at an all-time high, yet despite clear and apparent voter disgust, voting patterns seem locked in stone. Over half of Texas’ legislative races had a single candidate on the ballot in 2016. Nearly two-thirds had only one major party candidate, meaning only one-third of Texas’ legislative races were effectively contested. Only eight of 387 incumbents in the U.S. Congress lost re-election.

We are trapped in a seemingly inescapable tribal paradigm, and the one-punch option reinforced it by placing party identification at the top of the Texas ballot. But now, the first thing on the ballot will not be an invitation to swear tribal allegiance. The Texas ballot will be a collection of individuals still running under their party labels, but being considered as separate individuals in separate races.

It is unfortunate that the one-punch option became a partisan (i.e., between the two major parties) issue. We know this, if for no other reason, because the votes in the House and the Senate were both along essentially strict party lines (except in some deep-red Republican counties).

Amazing! The party that feels hurt by one-punch voting wants it eliminated. The party that thinks it helps wants to keep it. Unfortunately, because the two-party system is so entrenched, our legislators continue to vote for what’s best for their parties instead of what’s best for Texas. This issue should have been decided based on what’s best for voters and electoral competition, not what’s best for either major party.

Republican support of HB 25, especially given recent election results in Texas’ largest counties, certainly has the smell of pure politics. Democratic opposition based on claims that one-punch voting somehow supports the ability of minority voters to elect the candidates of their choice has a similar smell. Democrats even went so far as to suggest that HB 25 was a “voter suppression bill,” promising to challenge it in court as a Voting Rights Act violation.

We can’t know how a court might rule if there is a lawsuit challenging the elimination of one-punch voting in Texas. We do know that two states that are subject to the same scrutiny as Texas under the Voting Rights Act — Georgia and Michigan — recently eliminated the practice. Georgia’s law was not contested. In Michigan, it was overturned because a federal court ruled it caused long lines in dense cities, disproportionately affecting African-Americans. The Michigan ruling means that the real issue is inadequate elections funding, not one-punch voting per se.

Voting for someone for public office entrusts them to hold power over us. It’s an affirmative declaration that we believe they will use that power wisely and in ways that further the common good. Voting to give that power to an entire political party seems especially dangerous, particularly in a state where politics has long been dominated by single parties.

The elimination of the one-punch option now signals to voters that Texas continues to be a state that celebrates the individual, looking first to a candidate’s character and ideas. Removing the option to cast a single vote for a single party will surely help the process of depolarization we so badly need.

Mark Miller

Texans for Voter Choice