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El Paso voters will face some major changes when they go to the polls next fall to elect a president, mayor and other officials. Straight-ticket voting will no longer be an option, and voters could have an expanded array of choices for locations to cast a ballot on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.
The county government, which oversees elections, will ask the Texas secretary of state for authorization to establish “vote centers,” which would be in addition to traditional neighborhood polling precincts, El Paso Elections administrator Lisa Wise said.
Election Day vote centers would be similar to early voting sites in that registered voters can cast their ballots at any location, not just at their neighborhood polling place. For example, a registered voter could cast a ballot near her workplace on Election Day rather than driving back home to vote at the traditional neighborhood precinct.
The goal is to expand voter options in the 2020 general election, Wise said.
“We are hoping to provide between 150 to 155 Election Day vote centers. For the November 2020 election, we will be keeping all of our precinct sites open and adding some high volume early voting sites,” Wise said.
The county will have to go through an application and approval process with the Texas secretary of state in the summer to be able to move to vote centers.
Although vote centers offer more convenience to many voters, voting rights activists have warned that some citizens could be disenfranchised if low-turnout neighborhood polling places are closed as part of cost savings to pay for vote centers. Wise doesn’t think that will be an issue in El Paso County because “there is more of an interest in offering more sites rather than fewer.”
The end of straight-ticket voting
The other major change that will affect all Texas voters is the elimination of straight-ticket voting, a fixture of Lone Star State elections for decades. Straight-ticket voting allows people to select one ballot choice that would cast votes for all candidates of their preferred party.
The Legislature voted to end straight-ticket voting during the 2017 session, effective with the 2020 election.
Republicans and Democrats have both benefited from straight-ticket voting over the years, with Democrats performing strongly in large urban centers and the border, and Republicans building big margins in suburban and rural areas. Democratic strength has grown in urban and suburban areas and Republicans have solidified their hold on rural areas.
The last use of straight-ticket voting was in the 2018 election, when two-thirds of Texas voters cast a straight-ticket vote, according to an analysis I did for Texas Monthly. El Paso County was in line with the state trend, with 67 percent of our 205,000 voters casting straight-ticket ballots.
The end of straight-ticket voting will have numerous impacts. One of the biggest is increasing the time voters spend in the polling booth, which could result in longer lines at voting sites.