Harris County GOP Blames Straight Ticket for Losses and “Communist” Votes

Beto O'Rourke didn't take the Senate, but the Harris County Republican Party blames him and straight-ticket voting for other losses.
Photo by Margaret Downing
Beto O'Rourke didn't take the Senate, but the Harris County Republican Party blames him and straight-ticket voting for other losses.
Though Ted Cruz held onto his Senate seat for a second term, Republicans in Texas and the Houston area in particular saw tremendous losses in the 2018 elections. The Harris County Republican Party blamed straight-ticket voting for the “Beto Wave” in a recent statement.

“I am mad,” says Communications Director Vlad Davidiuk. “Mad at the avoidable losses wreaked across Texas by the Beto Wave of straight-ticket votes. That straight-ticket wave turned Fort Bend County Democrat, defeated Republicans on appellate courts across Texas, elected Democrats across the state to Congress and the Legislature, and swept every countywide vote in Harris County. Despite the largest and most ambitious campaign the Harris County Republican Party has ever run, we fell woefully short.”

This election was the last year Texas will offer one-touch straight-ticket voting. Governor Greg Abbott, who also won re-election, signed a law in 2017 ending the practice, but not until the 2020 election. In 2016, 65.3 percent votes cast in Harris County used the straight ticket option, with Democrats being 17 percent more likely to use it than Republicans. There was some Democratic opposition to HB 25, but the law was ultimately passed with only three Democratic votes. Included in the Republican-sponsored bill was an amendment that delayed implementation until after the midterms.

“Sadly, this straight-ticket Beto Wave was once avoidable,” says Davidiuk. “Texas is one of only eight states that still have straight-ticket voting. In 2017, other grassroots conservatives and I championed legislation to end straight ticket voting in Texas once and for all. But, to the detriment of Republicans across Texas, straight-ticket voting was left in place for one last election.”

The complaint seems odd considering that there were widespread reports during early voting of straight-ticket Democratic voters seeing their ballots changed from challenger Beto O’Rourke to Cruz. The Texas Secretary of State blamed operator error rather than malfeasance or malfunction on the instances, saying that voters were “hitting a button or using the selection wheel before the screen is finished rendering.” The office reported fewer than 20 instances of the phenomenon, all of which it said were properly corrected to reflect the voters’ true wishes. Cruz narrowly defeated O’Rourke by 2.6 percentage points, a significant decrease from when he won his first term against Paul Sadler in 2012 by double digits.

Nonetheless, the case can certainly be made that straight-ticket voting combined with the high-profile O’Rourke campaign may have done significant splash damage to Republicans in the Houston area. John Culberson was defeated by Lizzie Fletcher in District 7 after having served there since 2001, Lina Hidalgo toppled Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart was ousted by Diane Trautman. Though all of the high offices remained in Republican hands, Democrats won more than 50 judicial elections and four spots on the Board of Education.

“There was no substantive Democrat countywide candidate, yet they all won,” says Davidiuk. “Consider: did all of those 500,000 straight-ticket Democrat voters turn out planning to oust County Judge Ed Emmett? Did the straight-ticket Democrat voters who gave Commissioner Jack Cagle’s opponent 46% of the vote know they were voting for a Communist? The questions answer themselves.”

The idea that Penny Shaw, who ran against Cagle, is a Communist appears to be a right-wing conspiracy theory. There is no evidence that Shaw, a Democrat, is a member of the Communist Party of Texas. The idea seems to be based on Shaw's attendance at events the Houston Communist Party attends, such as the state Democratic convention this past summer. Sources "proving" her link to communism are either broken or do not actually contain the quotes that some alt-wiki authors contend they do.

Vaporous scaremongering nonsense aside, neither party will be able to blame the simple one-touch system for losses when the new law takes effect.