A long line of voters forms outside of Ed Rawlinson Middle School, a polling site.
A long line of voters forms outside of the a polling site at Ed Rawlinson Middle School on Nov. 6. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Down-ballot Democrats in Bexar County reaped the benefits of straight-ticket voting in the recent midterm election, but that advantage will soon be a thing of the past.

Of the 551,896 ballots cast in Bexar County, 134,360 were straight-ticket Republican votes and 191,776 straight-ticket Democratic votes. Among Libertarians, 2,729 people voted straight-ticket.

Democratic straight-ticket voting in Bexar County saw a slight increase since the 2016 presidential election when 32.6 percent of voters cast straight-ticket ballots for Democrats compared to 23 percent for Republicans. This year, 34.7 percent of Bexar County voters went straight-ticket Democrat while 23.4 percent voted straight-ticket Republican.

Democrats won all the Bexar County court-at-law judicial and probate court races, and the district and county clerks, both incumbent Republicans, were unseated by their Democratic challengers. That could be attributed to straight-ticket voting, said Henry Flores, a political science professor at St. Mary’s University.

“Straight-ticket voting has given Democrats an advantage over the years,” he said. “Down-ballot elections will benefit from that simply because a lot of folks don’t know who those people are, particularly judicial elections. A lot of judicial candidates hang their hats on straight-ticket voting and attach themselves to candidates at the top of the ticket in their party, because they can’t afford to run big campaigns.”

Texas is one of eight states that offers straight-ticket voting – or will be until 2020.

Last session, the Texas Legislature passed a bill ending straight ticket voting in September 2020 – right before the next presidential election – making 2018 the last midterm election in which voters could vote straight down the party line.

Hover over precincts on the map below to see the distribution of straight-party votes.

The typical straight-ticket voter is older and less politically educated, Flores said. Eliminating straight-ticket voting could end up discouraging potential voters, especially when faced with long ballots, he added.

“That is, for me, the most important issue,” he said. “Voters will be confused, and the average human doesn’t like to appear ignorant so they’ll say, ‘I don’t know what’s going on so I’m just not going to go.’”

Requiring voters to expend additional effort or time typically leads to a decrease in voter turnout, and straight-ticket voting was a good way to mobilize voters by marketing it as an easy way to vote, said Brandon Rottinghaus, University of Houston political science professor. Both Republicans and Democrats in Texas will now have to figure out how to keep people invested in voting for their parties, he added.

“I think Republicans are better at that than Democrats are,” he said. “It took a while for Democrat straight-ticket voting to catch up to Republican straight-ticket voting in big urban counties. The Democrats need to figure this out more quickly than the straight-ticket voting issue.”

Republicans have been championing the movement to eliminate straight-ticket voting for some time, Rottinghaus said, as the increase in Democrats in urban areas caused concern among the state GOP, he said.

“In the short term, it may hurt Republicans in some races,” he said. “But in the long term, it was going to be a disaster for Republicans in most big cities.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.