Waco Tribune-Herald: Villalba Bill on Straight-Ticket Voting Great Idea, but Why Just Some Counties?

By: Editorial Board | February 24, 2015

If state lawmakers’ talk of liberty and a government of the people is truly on the level, if they really believe in reinvigorating the ideas and intents of the Founders, then state Rep. Jason Villalba’s bill to remove judges and certain county officials from mindless straight-ticket party voting ought to be a slam-dunk. So why are we skeptical?

Villalba, a Republican legislator from Dallas who spoke to the McLennan County Republican Club last year and has been mending relations between Hispanics and the Republican Party of Texas in the wake of Dan Patrick’s run for lieutenant governor, said House Bill 1444 would compel Texas voters — those who show up anyway — to take their constitutional obligation a little more seriously. And we’re all for that.

The bill would end straight-ticket party voting involving nonpolicy positions such as district attorney, sheriff, tax assessor and constable in Texas’ largest counties. Straight-ticket voting would still apply for posts such as U.S. and state senators and representatives. Our reading of the bill suggests it would also still apply to the commissioners court.

This does not preclude candidates from running as either Republicans or Democrats. On the ballot, the candidate’s name would appear right next to his party affiliation. But Villalba hopes this new arrangement will prompt more thought about the electoral process, including a candidate’s record of accomplishments and abilities for uniquely skilled jobs in law enforcement, investments and justice.

“This bill is about putting experience and qualifications ahead of partisanship,” Villalba said in a statement. “It’s about good government. If we are looking to have the best, most qualified leaders elected, then it’s critical that we remove the built-in, partisan-focused approach that the current straight-ticket process creates.”

Former state Rep. Dan Branch, a Dallas Republican, fought unsuccessfully for much the same. “I think there’s sort of a social compact that when one citizen puts his name out there to run for the local judge’s office,” Branch told the Trib last year, “another citizen should at least consider his candidacy and shouldn’t have a machine just sort of blithely go by and machine-gun down the ballot to make that decision.”

Granted, this bill would fall well short of what the Founders might have envisioned, but at least it could jump-start some thinking, never a bad idea when voting. If we have a complaint about Villalba’s bill, it’s that it currently would apply only to counties with populations of 1 million or more (and extra-long ballots). If his bill is about good government, we could use some of that in smaller counties too.