On Friday, just three weeks before the start of early voting, a U.S. district judge in Texas blocked plans to fully eliminate the straight-ticket option in the state, citing an interest in minimizing the time voters have to spend in their polling places amid a pandemic.
The judge, Marina Garcia Marmolejo, said in her ruling on Friday that she feared that eliminating the practice 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,” according to The Texas Tribune.
The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature passed a law in 2017 eliminating straight-ticket voting beginning in 2020. While supporters said the move would force voters to make more informed choices, Democrats argued at the time that it was actually done to stem their party’s growing margins for down-ballot races, particularly in the state’s large cities.
Democratic organizers filed a legal challenge in March of this year, arguing that the straight-ticket option saved voters time. In some of Texas’ urban counties, races for local and statewide candidates can force voters to pore over ballots that are several pages long.
Whether straight-ticket voting actually benefits either party disproportionately is unclear, and both Democrats and Republicans in Texas have expressed concern about how eliminating it could affect voters’ behavior. But the Democrats who challenged the proposed changes said it placed an undue burden on voters and could discourage turnout.
Judge Marmolejo agreed in her ruling, saying that removing the option would not only inconvenience voters lining up to cast ballots amid a pandemic, but was likely to disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic voters as well.
Reporting was contributed by Hannah Beech, Emma Bubola, Karen Crouse, Matthew Futterman, Rick Gladstone, Mike Ives, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Zach Montgomery, Richard C. Paddock, Bryan Pietsch, Elian Peltier, Simon Romero, Adam Satariano, Mitch Smith, Amanda Taub and Sui-Lee Wee.