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Federal court overturns Texas' repeal of straight ticket voting option

A federal judge issued a ruling late Friday blocking Texas from eliminating straight-ticket voting as an option for the state’s voters in this year’s election. 

The ruling from District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo comes less than three weeks before early voting begins in the Lone Star State. The decision will keep the option open for voters to vote for all candidates of one party by selecting that choice at the top of their ballots. 

Marmolejo ruled that removing the option would “cause irreparable injury” to voters “by creating mass lines at the polls and increasing the amount of time voters are exposed to COVID-19” and “likely to cause confusion among voters.”

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Most states do not offer a straight-ticket option, but the practice has become popular in Texas, which notoriously has long ballots.

State Republicans passed a law in 2017 barring straight-ticket voting, arguing that removing the option would press voters to make more informed decisions about for whom they cast their ballots. An amendment delayed its implementation until the 2020 general election.

The method of voting has proven to be more popular among Democratic voters, and Democrats feared the removal of straight-ticket voting could particularly impact voter participation in urban areas that lean more liberal but also have significantly longer ballots. Marmolejo also ruled that scrapping the option would “[imposes] a discriminatory burden of African-American and Hispanic voters,” who disproportionately live in urban centers.

Democrats sued Texas in March over the 2017 law’s implementation and were swift to hail Friday's ruling as a win against voter suppression.

“We committed to voters in Texas that we would fight any obstacle to freely and fairly participating in our elections, and this ruling underscores why that work is so important,” the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a joint statement

“Without straight-ticket voting, Texans would have experienced longer lines and wait times at polling places across the state, an unacceptable barrier that would have impacted minority communities," they added. "We are relieved the court has upheld straight-ticket voting and struck down this harmful law.” 

The ruling comes as Democrats look to boost turnout in Texas as polls show both the presidential and Senate races, as well as a number of House contests, are competitive in the final sprint to Election Day.