The Texas Democratic Party filed a federal voting rights lawsuit against Dallas County this week over the recount in the House District 105 race between incumbent Republican Linda Harper-Brown and Democratic challenger Bob Romano.

The Dallas Morning News explains the vote-counting controversy that sparked the action:
...[T]he crux of the federal suit involves straight-party voting on electronic voting machines. When someone votes a straight-party ticket but then also selects the name of a candidate within that party in a particular race, electronic machines "deselect" that candidate. If no other candidate is chosen, no vote is counted in that race. A review screen indicating that no vote will be entered for that race is shown before electronic voters cast their ballots.

On paper ballots, however, if someone votes a straight-party ticket and then selects a candidate from that party in a particular race, the vote for that candidate still counts and is called "emphasis" voting.
The Texas Democratic Party protests that the Secretary of State's instruction to cancel electronic emphasis votes in the District 105 race represents a departure from existing law and previous instructions, calling it "clearly partisan." Texas Secretary of State Esperanza "Hope" Andrade is a Republican appointed to the post earlier this year by Gov. Rick Perry (R).

Texas witnessed a rise in straight-ticketing voting in the recent election that helped Democrats. In Dallas County, for example, 60 percent of straight-ticket votes went for Democrats. That's sparked a Republican backlash of sorts, with state Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) introducing a bill last month to abolish straight-ticket voting.

The Democrats' lawsuit seek a temporary restraining order that would either require Dallas County elections officials to count the straight-party votes from electronic voting machines that were excluded from the initial count or have a federal court void last month's results and order a new election for the seat. The suit argues that elections officials failed to receive proper pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department to let emphasis votes cast by machine go uncounted. Under the federal Voting Rights Act, Texas and many other states -- mostly in the South -- must get federal approval before implementing voting changes.

After the initial count in the race, Harper-Brown held a 20-vote edge over Romano. Should the recount flip the outcome, the Republicans would lose their one-seat advantage in the state House, which would be evenly divided between the two parties at 75 seats each.