Appeals court blocks order requiring straight-ticket voting in Texas

Tribune Content Agency

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal appeals court on Monday temporarily blocked a recent lower-court order that required Texas election officials to make straight-ticket voting available for the Nov. 3 election.

U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo of Laredo had ruled that a state law banning straight-ticket voting, which took effect Sept. 1, would require voters to spend much more time filling out their ballots, leading to longer lines at polling places that would endanger voters during a deadly pandemic.

“The longer voters stand in line, the greater the risk that they contract COVID-19. Texans already wait a long time to exercise their right to vote,” the judge wrote in an order released late Friday.

Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to issue an emergency stay blocking enforcement of Garcia Marmolejo’s ruling while he prepared an appeal to overturn the order.

On Monday, the appeals court issued an administrative stay that blocked the ruling to give judges time to consider Paxton’s motion for an emergency stay. The court also ordered briefing on Paxton’s request to be submitted by noon Wednesday.

With early voting set to begin in two weeks, Garcia Marmolejo’s ruling had alarmed county election officials who have already finalized ballots and verified voting machine software.

Gov. Greg Abbott added six extra days of early voting, set to begin Oct. 13, to reduce polling place congestion during the pandemic. However, several GOP officials and activists, including Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and Texas GOP Chairman Allen West, have asked the Texas Supreme Court to cancel the added days, arguing that Abbott lacked the authority to extend early voting.

In the legal fight over straight-ticket voting, Garcia Marmolejo had dismissed a similar lawsuit by the Texas Democratic Party in June, saying complaints about the pandemic’s dangers were speculative.

A new challenge filed last month argued that a worsening pandemic required another look at a law that “recklessly created a recipe for disaster at the polls in 2020.”

The lawsuit — by two national Democratic organizations, the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and Webb County’s Democratic chairwoman — also argued straight-ticket voting allowed for “efficient yet deliberate” voting for more than a century, particularly in urban counties where voters can face up to 95 choices on a ballot.

But Paxton argued that 43 other states do not allow straight-ticket voting, and none of their laws have been declared unconstitutional.

He also said House Bill 25, passed in 2017 to end straight-ticket voting, encouraged voters to become more informed about all races while reducing the chances that down-ballot nonpartisan races and propositions will be ignored.

More than 5.6 million Texans, or about two-thirds of voters, cast straight-ticket ballots in 2018 by using a one-step option to select all candidates for a single party instead of voting for each candidate individually.

More Democrats than Republicans tend to vote by straight ticket in the state’s larger counties, and almost every Democrat in the Legislature opposed HB 25 while almost every Republican supported it in the 2017 legislative session.


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