Federal appeals court temporarily blocks lower court ruling which eliminated straight-ticket voting in Texas

Texas Politics

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect the temporary block on a lower court ruling.

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A U.S. federal appeals court has temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that required Texas to allow straight-ticket voting for the Nov. 3 election.

Elections administrators around Texas have been scrambling over the weekend to accommodate the lower court ruling—which on Friday blocked the a 2017 Texas law that eliminated straight-ticket voting.

The appeals court ruling is an administrative stay, a move giving the court time to consider the state’s motion for an emergency stay in the case.

The appeals court orders the plaintiffs to file a response in court no later than Tuesday at 5 p.m.

ORIGINAL STORY

County elections administrators in Texas are preparing to adjust operations after a judge in Texas blocked the state’s elimination of straight-ticket voting.

U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo ruled late Friday that during the COVID-19 pandemic, eliminating straight-ticket voting would cause “mass lines at the polls” and “increase the amount of time voters are exposed to COVID-19, causing “irreparable injury” to the lawsuit’s plaintiffs and “ALL Texas voters in the upcoming general election.”

One-punch voting allows for general-election voters to choose all of the candidates in the party they choose and vote for them all at once by selecting a straight-ticket option at the top of the ballot, rather than individually pick a candidate in each race.

Texas Republican legislators led a law change in 2017 to eliminate the practice, claiming voters would be more likely to make better-informed decisions about the candidates, because they would be forced to look at each race. Democrats opposed the measure, arguing that having to vote on every race individually would slow the process down and cause longer lines, especially in large counties. The law’s first application to a presidential election would be this year’s general election.

“This is a good news, bad news situation,” Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said Monday, referring to the ruling.

“The good news is we can create this option for voters. We can and should have created it back in March when this first came,” she said. The Texas Democratic Party sued the state in March to keep straight-ticket voting in 2020. Judge Marmolejo dismissed that suit.

“The bad news is, the court is way late in trying to address what would have been a very good thing for voters,” DeBeauvoir said.

While DeBeauvoir said this ruling does not apply to mail-in ballots, only in-person ballots, which would need to be reprinted. Voting machines would also need calibrating.

She said her staff will be able to implement the necessary changes to in-person voting but worries about the shortening window as early voting starts on Oct. 13. County elections officials just recently went through the process of putting Green Party and Libertarian candidates back on the ballot, after a back-and-forth court battle.

“We could have done this all at once,” she said. “It’s really only a matter of a number of days, but those are precious days right now, while we’re trying to get everything ready,” DeBeauvoir said.

“It’s confusing for voters and we do not want that,” she said.

“The Court is not convinced that the burden on the state to recalibrate its machines, all of which have been used in the past with an STV option and which will be programmed and operated by officials familiar with the STV option, will be as onerous as Texas claims,” Judge Marmolejo wrote.

DeBeauvoir said as of Monday morning she had not gotten any guidance from the Secretary of State’s office on how to proceed, but she expected the state’s elections division to send out some information in the coming days.

“I absolutely am worried about getting everything done in the timeframe,” she said.

In the meantime, DeBeauvoir and her team are awaiting a decision from the Fifth Circuit of Appeals on whether the judge’s ruling will stand.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who represents the state in this case, filed a motion over the weekend to stay the district court’s injunction.

“I am disappointed that the Court departed from its prior reasoning and imposed straight ticket voting only weeks before a general election,” Paxton wrote in an emailed statement.

“In addition, my office will file an immediate appeal of the district court’s ruling in order to defend the integrity of Texas’s electoral process and a practice used in 43 other states,” he added.

Texas Democrats celebrated the order.

“Time and time again Republican leadership has tried to make it harder to vote and time and time again federal courts strike it down,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “Texas Democrats will have to continue to win at the ballot box to protect the right vote. Until the new Texas majority wipes out these out-of-touch Republicans, Texas Democrats will
never stop fighting for Texans in court.”

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