New TX Bill Would Allow Austin to Use RCV Ballots Approved in 2021

A new bill has been proposed in the Texas Legislature that would give local municipalities and school districts the authority to implement ranked choice voting (RCV) for nonpartisan elections. 

HR 259, introduced by State Rep. Vicki Goodwin, would expand the growth opportunities for voting reform in the second-largest state in the US. It would also give the state’s capital, Austin, the green light to use ranked choice voting ballots – which voters approved the use of in 2021.

The bill amends the Texas Election Code by adding a new section for preferential voting (specifically ranked choice voting), and states as follows:

Sec. 2.101 (USE OPTIONAL). The governing body of a municipality or independent school district may authorize the use of preferential voting as provided by this subchapter for a nonpartisan election of an officer of the municipality or school district, as appropriate, by majority vote.

Texas law does not explicitly ban alternative voting methods from being adopted by local municipalities, and there is no court precedent that has struck down new voting methods in the state.

And yet, Austin faces a potential legal roadblock to implement ranked choice voting because of how state election officials interpret what a “true majority” means.

The Texas Election Code requires cities with a population of over 200,000 to elect its officials by majority vote. To this day, state election officials hold that results of a ranked choice voting system do not represent a “traditional” majority – which they say is intended by state law.

In 2003, then State Attorney General Greg Abbott (now governor), wrote:

The majority vote requirement in sections 275.002 and 275.003(d) of the Code ‘theoretically could include preferential majority,’ the (secretary of state’s) opinion continues, but ‘the term [“majority”] as it has been used in the [Election] Code does not.’ Id. at 2. Rather, ‘the meaning of the word ‘majority,’ as the Texas Legislature has used it in the Code and as it has been interpreted by the courts, is majority in the ‘classic’ or ‘traditional’ sense, i.e., a majority vote consists of more than half of the original votes, as cast and not re-assigned by the voter’s secondary or tertiary in tent.’

HR 259 would cement the “preferential” majority obtained from ranked choice voting into the Election Code and allow communities to try ranked choice voting for themselves and decide if it's right for their elections.

In its support of HR 259, Ranked Choice Voting for Texas stated:

“Texans value the freedom of choice and the right to self-government. It's an idea rooted in the belief that local residents and governments have a better grasp of what is best for their communities and citizens. This bill would enable local governments or school districts the choice to conduct their elections using ranked choice voting (RCV).”

The group re-emphasized that this is a choice, not a mandate. It would give local municipalities and school districts greater potential to act as laboratories of democracy to determine what type of elections best serve voters.