Straight ticket knotty issue for election
Last updated 9/29/2020 at 7:06pm
This was supposed to be the election when Texas said goodbye to straight-ticket voting.
After a flurry of court actions in the past few weeks, it seems too soon to say if it will or it won't.
And that's not good news for Tina Barrow.
The Orange County elections administrator said Tuesday, "As of right now, I don't know," what to do regarding ballots.
Early voting begins Tuesday, Oct. 13 for the Tuesday, Nov. 3 election. The final day to register to vote is Monday, Oct. 5.
The uncertainty, she said, has kept her from sending out her vote-by-mail ballots.
That's the second time this month that Texas courts have upset her election prep schedule.
"We had a setback with the Green Party ballots last time. They allowed them to get on the ballot," she said. "So there was a hold up with that."
The Democrats had successfully sued to kick Green Party candidates for U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative and Railroad Commissioner off the ballot for not paying filing fees, but the Texas Supreme Court, made up completely by Republicans, ordered they be put back on.
The Republican-majority Texas Legislature voted in 2017 to eliminate straight-ticket voting beginning with the 2020 Presidential election. Statewide, a higher percent of minority voters have used the straight-ticket voting, which allows a voter to check one box to vote for a party's entire slate of candidates.
Minority voters statistically favor Democrat candidates.
Democrats won a court ruling last Friday to reinstate straight-ticket voting but Monday a federal appeals court put that ruling in limbo, asking for more time to decide.
"With the Green Party, we hadn't already ordered our ballots," Barrow, the county's top elections official, said. "But this one, I have already ordered the ballots and I have programmed everything. Now we're at a standstill, waiting on the results of what they're going to do with the straight-party ticket.
"I have no idea what they're going to do right now."
Orange County votes both on electronic voting machines and paper ballots. The voting machines do not report ballots online; they merely issue a printed ballot which has to be run through the same scanner used with the paper Scantron-bubble type ballots.
Besides the county, state and national elections normally held in the fall, this year's ballots will also include voting on city and school elections delayed from May by COVID-19.
"If they decide on straight-ticket, then, yes, it will all have to be reprogrammed. I'm not positive, but I'm thinking, yes, I will have to reprint all those ballots," Barrow said.
"So that's why I haven't mailed anything yet.
"The mail ballots are kind of on standby until they decide what they're going to do with the straight-party ticket."
Orange County voted 81% for Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump in 2016, just 19% for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Of the record 32,142 Orange County voters in 2016, 19,760 of them (61.5%) voted straight-ticket. Of those, 80.5% voted Republican, 18.6% voted Democrat, the remaining 0.9% voted Libertarian or Green Party.
"I'm hoping I'll have something [an answer] by the end of the week, or in the next couple of days," Barrow said. "I need to get those mail-in ballots out in the mail and early voting is in two weeks."