With the end of the election cycle came a quiet, yet drastic change to Texas’ voting landscape. The ability for UT students to streamline the voting process with the push of a single button is valuable. However, straight-ticket voting, or the easy process of selecting all the candidates from one party is no longer an option.
Eliminated by the Texas Legislature in 2017, straight-ticket voting served as a simple way for voters to elect those who aligned with their parties views while avoiding an overflow of bureaucratic options. It was often maligned by members of both parties who argued that voters should evaluate each candidate individually on their merits and that if a voter is uninformed about certain races, they should not be voting in them anyway.
However, if these are the strongest initiatives that favor the elimination of straight-ticket voting, the purpose for doing so appears rather insignificant. While it has been popular to criticize the practice of straight-ticket voting for candidates by political party, partisan affiliation remains the best way to understand and evaluate the underlying philosophy and perspective of candidates.
“I think no longer having this ability will definitely decrease turnout among students in the future, especially since the elections fall during the stressful period of midterms,” said Krisha Jariwala, a communication studies freshman. “I’m usually too busy to pay attention to the down-ballot races, so voting straight ticket was the best way for me to have a general idea of their positions without having to research them all.”
While it may not matter in high-profile local and state races, the lack of exposure for many administrative and judicial candidates makes partisan affiliation crucial. This is never truer than with judicial elections, where candidates are limited in their abilities to characterize their positions, leaving UT students with little information to make an evaluation.
“It’s no question that a large portion of (UT) voter turnout was based on exciting candidates at the top of the ticket, so we can certainly expect that down-ballot races will have a decrease in ballots cast,” said Jacob Springer, a government sophomore and the chief volunteer deputy registrar of TXVotes. “Many down-ballot races are about to be a lot closer. So while this turnout might decrease, the importance of those votes increases.”
Compounding the problem, the very length of the ballot serves as an endurance test for many UT voters who have little time to study the positions of judicial and local offices relegated to the last pages. Straight-ticket voting allows student voters the opportunity to have their voices heard throughout the ballot.
Legislators argue the public should abstain from voting if it is uninformed about certain races. However, the solution to a lack of public awareness should not be promoting silence. If anything, the elimination of straight-ticket voting should encourage students to be even more vocal about their political activism.
“While I prefer to cast my vote in each individual race, I think it is useful in getting votes cast in small races that are wildly important,” Springer said. “We now have the further responsibility of increasing voter education and really emphasizing the importance of casting a complete ballot, rather than just casting one in general.”
The reality is that many students will not know everyone on the ballot because of how long and complex it is. Partisan affiliation — regardless of your preference — gives voters a chance to make a choice based on philosophy, and straight-ticket voting increases public participation in democracy, which is something both sides of the ballot should support.
Johnson is a journalism freshman from Austin.