AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Democrats sued Texas elections officials Thursday in an effort to stop a new ban on straight-ticket voting in 2020, claiming that long lines on Super Tuesday hinted at problems to come in November.
Most states don’t offer straight-ticket voting, which allows voters to simply choose a party’s entire slate of candidates. But the lawsuit by the Texas Democratic Party — joined by national Democratic groups trying to make inroads in the booming red state — claims the new Texas law set to take effect before Election Day would disproportionately harm black and Latino communities in big urban counties where ballots are longer, resulting in longer wait times.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court along the Texas border in Laredo, and points to long lines snaking out of polling places in Houston during this week’s election, when some voters waited more than an hour in mostly minority, Democratic neighborhoods. Lines in mostly white, Republican neighborhoods were shorter.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the ban on straight-ticket voting in 2017, but the law will not take effect until this fall. Republicans have argued it will result in voters casting better-informed ballots on Election Day, rather than just voting purely by party.
“In ending a century-old voting practice that Texans have relied on to exercise their most fundamental and sacred rights — the rights to political participation and association—Texas has recklessly created a recipe for disaster at the polls in 2020,” the lawsuit reads.
A spokeswoman for Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement that while Paxton’s staff was still reviewing the case, “we remain confident that Texas voting laws are in full compliance with the Constitution and all voters have equal opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice.
Houston elections officials blamed this week’s long lines on the local Republican Party’s refusal to hold a joint primary with the Democrats. But the GOP said election administrators’ allocation of an even number of voting machines to each primary disregarded warnings that an even split would cause problems in places where the hotly contested Democratic race was likely to draw more voters.
Democratic lawmakers in Texas said Thursday they would also hold a hearing this month about the long voting lines in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.
State Sen. Borris Miles, a Houston Democrat, called Tuesday a “fisaco” that “reeked of voter suppression.” But he also criticized his own party, which wields the most power in Harris County, saying in a statement that it had “an obligation to fight for our citizens, to go to the mat for them and it was clear, WE DID NOT DO THAT!””
By PAUL J. WEBER
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