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Federal judge blocks Texas from eliminating straight party voting, citing COVID-19 risk
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Federal judge blocks Texas from eliminating straight party voting, citing COVID-19 risk

A federal judge on Friday blocked the state of Texas from eliminating straight-party voting, a system where a voter could vote for all the Democrats or Republicans on a ballot by checking a single box. In the order, US District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo said the main reason for preventing the law is to eliminate wait times during the voting process, which would lower the risk of exposure to voters to COVID-19.

The law at issue is House Bill 25. Originally passed in 2017, HB 25 eliminated the option for voters to cast their vote for all candidates running within their preferred political party via a single punch, or “straight ticket voting.” HB 25 passed along party lines in 2017 by the Republican-majority Texas Legislature, who argued that eliminating straight ticket voting would result in a more educated and engaged electorate. Without straight ticket voting, proponents of the bill believed voters would have to seek out more information and ultimately result in a more competitive election.

In August Democratic campaign committees of the US Senate and US House, the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and Sylvia Bruni, chair of the Democratic Party in Webb County sued Texas’ chief election officer, Secretary of State Ruth Hughes over HB 25. In their complaint, the Plaintiffs alleged that HB 25 violates the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. Further, the plaintiffs claimed the law would increase wait times, making the risk of COVID-19 would be unjustifiable.

Marmolejo appeared persuaded by the plaintiffs’ last argument, writing that longer wait times for voters will result in a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission. Marmolejo also addressed the state’s argument that US Supreme Court precedent bars changing election rules on the eve of elections, noting that the same standard is not applicable to HB 25 because an injunction against the law “would not impose such an onerous burden on election officials and merely allows a century-old practice to remain in place for one more election.”