Dallas Morning News: Can State Finally Ditch One-Punch Voting?

By: Editorial Board | February 19, 2015

Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton tells an anecdote that reflects the mindlessness involved in one-punch voting in Texas.

A Republican, Simmons ran for re-election in his Denton County district last year against a little-known, lightly financed Democrat. Two years earlier, that Democrat ran for vice president on the Socialist Party USA ticket. Yet the former socialist netted about the same slice of the vote in Simmons’ district — about 35 percent — as Sen. Wendy Davis did in her Democratic candidacy for governor.

Simmons was astounded that more than 10,000 Democrats voted for a one-time socialist. His theory for the high number: voters who punched one button for the entire Democratic slate, trusting that their party put up quality candidates aligned with its governing philosophy.

The episode reignited Simmons’ jets to put a crimp in party rule at the ballot box, and he filed a bill this year (HB 1288) to join the 39 states that have abolished straight-ticket voting.

Simmons is picking up a fight waged for years by former Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, and this newspaper is glad he is. The one-punch voter might assume that his or her political party put up a well-vetted slate, but stinker candidates pop up on the ballots of both parties.

Simmons maintains that democracy depends on an informed electorate, and his own experience tells him many voters don’t make the effort. Indeed, last November, straight-ticket voting reached a record high of 61 percent for a gubernatorial year in the 46 largest counties, according to a new study from Austin Community College.

Two other bills have been filed to take a whack at one-punch voting. HB 1555 by Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Republican who holds Branch’s former seat, is identical to Simmons’.

HB 1444 by Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, takes a different tack: It would do away with one-punch balloting for what he calls “non-policy-making” offices including statewide and local judgeships and county offices including sheriff and district attorney. Those candidates would have to be chosen individually, although party affiliation would be listed on the ballot. The bill would pertain only to counties with populations of at least 1 million, where ballots run multiple pages.

Villalba says voters should focus on candidates’ credentials and experience in applying the law for these offices, as opposed to their political philosophy.

Of the two approaches, this newspaper favors Simmons’ wider reach, although Villalba’s more limited legislation would move Texas in a good direction.

Either way, it could be a tough slog making headway on these bills. The status quo gives each party a bedrock of support at the ballot box, in different places. The Democrats have the strong hand in Dallas and most other urban counties, and the GOP rules the exurbs and statewide ballot.

Simmons, however, gives his bill a 50-50 chance were it to reach the House floor. We hope he’s able to speak for it there and can overcome party footsoldiers to get it passed.