STRAIGHT-TICKET GONE: WITH STROKE OF THE PEN, TEXAS ELIMINATES STRAIGHT-TICKET VOTING

Democrats may not like it, but starting in 2020, they are definitely going to have to deal with it.

With the stroke of his gubernatorial pen, Republican Governor Greg Abbot signed House Bill 25 into law last Thursday, which will eliminate straight-ticket voting, starting in 2020, for good – or for as long as the Republicans continue to control the Texas House, Texas Senate and the Governor’s office.

The passage of this law delivers a huge blow to Democrats all across the state of Texas, who saw their voting percentages substantially increase in each of the state’s 10 most populous counties over the last four presidential elections from 2004 to 2016. In Harris County, Democrats saw straight-ticket voting increase from 29.9% to 35.3%, while Republicans saw a decrease from 34% to 30%. In Fort Bend County, while Republicans themselves saw an increase in straight-ticket voting from 31.6% to 36%, Democrats saw an even greater increase in straight-ticket voting – growing from 25.1% to a whopping 38.8%. As a matter of fact, in every other populous county, Democrats saw an increase in straight-ticket voting over the last four presidential elections, while Republicans saw a decrease in straight-voting, with the exception of a slight bump for Republicans in Hidalgo County.

For those who are unaware of what straight-ticket voting is, let the Forward Times provide you with the basics, because many people may have voted in this way, but never knew what it was called.

Straight-ticket voting, or straight-party voting, is the practice of voting for every candidate a political party has on a general election ballot.

In other words, by voting a ‘straight-ticket’, a person doesn’t have to select any of the candidates on the ballot specifically when they go into the voting booth. In Texas, a voter who chooses a straight-party ticket casts votes for all of the party ballot specifically when they go into the voting booth. In Texas, a voter who chooses a straight-party ticket casts votes for all of the party candidates in all of the races where that party has a candidate – from the President of the U.S. to the Governor and all statewide and county races on the ballot.

Prior to Governor Abbot signing this recently passed bill, Texas and eight other states allowed registered voters in the state to cast a straight-ticket ballot. Now Texas has removed that option, and the Democratic Party must figure out a new strategy to get their base voters registered to vote, and out to the polls.

While many believe this new bill is another form of voter suppression, there are others who have long championed for Democrats to abandon the straight-ticket voting approach, and focus on having candidates and political organizations spend more time in the communities, educating and equipping people, while focusing on registering voters in the process. Year-after-year, many of the same marketing practices have been employed to encourage members of the Black community to vote ‘straight-ticket’ each election cycle, which dilutes any attempt for voters to truly know many of the candidates they are selecting with the straight-ticket voting option.

While the percentage of Democratic voters have significantly increased by focusing on the straight-ticket voting option, there have also been problems that have arisen with candidates appearing on the Democratic Party slate who contradict the core values of the Democratic Party they claim to represent.

Take the 2014 Democratic primary for example.

In 2014, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa, sent out an email telling Democratic voters “not to be fooled” because Kesha Rogers, who was one of the candidates on the ballot for U.S. senator in the 2014 Democratic primary, was “not a Democrat.”

Although there is no straight-ticket voting option during a primary election, it became extremely confusing for many people who were told to reject Rogers during the primary election, but would have no other choice but to vote for her if they selected a “straight-ticket” option during the general election.

Rogers, who had always described herself as a Lyndon LaRouche Democrat, ran as a Democrat, and wanted to impeach President Barack Obama from office if elected. What was even more interesting was the fact that it was not the first time Rogers had run for an office as a Democrat. Rogers not only ran for office as a Democrat, she also successfully won the Democratic primary twice as the Democratic Party’s candidate to represent the Houston-area 22nd Congressional District. Rogers benefitted greatly from  those Democratic voters in both years – 2010 and 2012. In 2010, Rogers captured the Democratic nomination for the House Congressional District 22 seat, after receiving 53 percent of the primary vote, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office, and she also won the 2012 Democratic primary for the same seat after receiving 51 percent of the primary vote. Each time, the Fort Bend Democratic Party denounced Rogers, and the party actively campaigned against her run for the nomination. However, each time, Rogers won her Democratic primary races and went on to represent the Democratic Party, whereby she became the recipient of straight-ticket voting in the general election.

Many U.S. voters, not just African Americans, rarely research candidates or read up on major political issues for themselves. Straight-ticket voting is easy, especially when voters believe that every person on their party ticket, representing the party they align themselves to, has their best interest at heart. That is not true whatsoever.

The Black community has found itself often being taken advantage of and consistently ignored because of a failure to truly research straight-ticket candidates.

Politicians are extremely integral to the landscape of our society. Holding elected office is not just a position, it is an honor and a privilege. It is important for citizens to know that these elected officials make decisions on many key issues and matters that impact their daily lives.

Just like an interpreter is there to decipher the words for people that don’t understand differing languages, elected officials and those seeking higher office must be the interpreter for their constituents and provide clear meaning to policies and laws.

These are some very important times, especially with what is happening in Washington D.C., and those seeking elected office must figure a different way to reach current and potential voters in the African American community. This requires strategic preparation, deliberate collaboration and proper execution, if the true plan is to effectively reach African American voters.

An informed voter is an educated voter. Those seeking office and seeking to remain in office should do everything they can to inform and educate African Americans – starting today.