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Adding straight-ticket voting would cause chaos for local elections officials

Posted at 4:57 PM, Sep 28, 2020

A ruling by a federal judge in Laredo is causing a lot of concern among Nueces County election officials.

Late Friday, U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo said amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the state should not risk making voting a long process.

In her ruling, the judge said that without the straight-ticket option, this increases the time voters are exposed to COVID-19. Marmolejo also said the GOP backed removal of straight-ticket voting was discriminatory to black and Hispanic voters in urban communities.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated on Saturday, he is "disappointed" in the ruling just weeks before the election, and that he will immediately file an appeal "in order to defend the integrity of Texas's electoral process."

If the judge's ruling stays in place, it will be a logistical nightmare for election departments, including the Nueces County Clerk's Office.

"It's not just going in and 'Oh, let me add the straight party,' " said Nueces County Clerk Kara Sands. "That's not how it works -- at all."

Sands, whose office is in charge of supervising elections in Nueces County, said she has been "in the weeds" waiting for the final decision.

The Nueces County Elections Department has stopped printing mail-in ballots until it knows what can be done next.

"We received almost 14,000 [voter] applications," she said. "So we stopped printing the rest of the ballots for now until we find out."

According to Sands, 10,000 mail-in ballots already have been printed; 800 were sent overseas to military.

On hold are 6,000 mail-in ballots ready to have been shipped Monday.

"It takes a lot of time to verify that that voter is getting that ballot," Sands said. "I mean, its a long process."

Sands said if new mail-in ballots have to be printed and sent, it could push back the time voters receive their ballots.

She said numerous voters call everyday asking when they will receive their ballots.

Not only will mail-in ballots have to be changed, but so will the equipment that you vote from in the voting booths.

Sands said they cannot add in new information on the ballots, because the ballot itself is locked and secure for security reasons.

An entirely new ballot would have to be created, which then would need to be approved by city entities, such as the City of Corpus Christi, City of Port Aransas, Flour Bluff ISD, Robstown ISD, etc.

She said setting up those schedules could take days. The process would finish in time, but it's extra work when the department has to start over.

Although the ruling offers positives to keep people safe during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Nueces County Republican Chair Jim Kaelin believes it's a "lazy way of voting."

"Straight-party leaves off your city council, because they're non-partisan," Kaelin said. "It leaves off your Del Mar College Board of Regents. If somebody flicks it, they don't even get your vote -- no consideration."

Meanwhile, Nueces County Democratic Chair Coretta Graham said she understands the ruling, but it might be a bit late.

"I can see it cutting down on the time you have to spend in line to vote," she said. "I'm glad that it's available, but it's kind of like, late in the game."

As of now, Sands said she is just waiting for a final decision so they can move forward. However, she said she has no insight, so she, too, will be watching the news to see what comes of the ruling.

Although printing ballots has halted, getting voter kits ready still is happening every day. Sands said her office received 400 voter applications today, and continue to receive them everyday.

She said it's a lot of work just putting together voter kits. When the ballots are approved, they will be sent inside the voter kits.