Voting Without Confidence: Texas’ Not So Secret Ballot

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secret ballot

There are a few well known facts about Texas.  It’s a red, red state.  Current Attorney-General and governor wannabe Greg Abbott likes to pal around with white supremacist, Ted Nugent. Greg Abbott salivated when the Supreme Court gutted the legal barrier between his vote suppression law that by “coincidence” disproportionately affects African Americans, Hispanics and married women in Texas.  Then there’s the matter of his redistricting plan, that he admitted in court documents would further weaken the weight of Democratic voters in an already defacto single party state.  He also threatened legal action against international observers  in the name of preventing voter intimidation.

Sometimes things are not as they seem in the Lone Star State. The other day, my colleague, Keith Brekhus wrote an eye opening article about the Texas Democratic Party’s possible candidates for the U.S. Senate.  Kesha Rogers, a dedicated Larouchite has a bit in common with the Tea Party, like her hatred for the President and for Americans having access to affordable healthcare. Yet, Rogers is trying to be Texas’ Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.

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Caveat emptor also applies to the secret ballot in Texas.  This will take a bit of explanation. The Lone Star state has an open primary system. Texas voters are not bound to registering by party affiliation and, in the name of saving money, Texas opted to combine the Democratic Party and Republican primaries.

Since voters do not register by party affiliation in Texas, they can participate in either party’s primary.  However, they may not cross over if there is a run-off.

Since the primaries are combined, it means that election officials have to know the voter’s party affiliation in order to give them the correct ballot.

In Southern Brazoria County, and perhaps other counties, this means voters must publicly disclose their party preference to provide the information to the poll clerk. It also means disclosing that preference to anyone else who is within hearing distance.

In one respect, this is a breakdown of an important feature of free and fair elections – the secret ballot. The election clerk and people within hearing distance know more about a voter’s choices than they would in the actual election – leaving voters open to, at least, subtle attempts at voter intimidation.

The reason the secret ballot matters is to prevent intimidation by external forces, be it biased election officials, your boss, or someone who is a strong believer in second amendment remedies when elections don’t go their way.

In a Facebook discussion of their experiences, some South Brazarian County voters observed subtle changes in the poll clerk’s demeanor and behavior upon learning that they were participating in the Democratic Party’s primary.

Gary Pegoda began a discussion about one of the problems that come with publically declaring one’s party preference.

Is it a violation of election rules when, for people she knows, she says “Republican (pause)”? In another case, with someone she presumably didn’t know, the man responded “Republican!” like she shouldn’t have asked, and she responded “I know..I have to ask.” Even if it’s not a violation of rules, she should at least be neutral.

This may not be a violation of election rules, but it does show us two of the problems that come with requiring voters to publicly state their party affiliation.  First, it means that people within hearing distance will hear your response.  Second, it means that particularly partisan election officials can be less than neutral.  Pegoda was not the only person who felt the election official had a partisan bias,

Sasha Adams Tarrant I had a similar experience when my daughter & I voted at the LJ library yesterday. However, when the clerk sent us down the line for our codes she commented “more democrats.” That made me smile so broadly that any frustration faded.

They are combined to save money. They are supposed to be neutral, but a pause, inflection and response to voter comments betray a clear bias.

While ballots are secret during elections, the Lone Star state’s version of a primary requires voters to disclose their party preferences to the election clerk. It means that voters are vulnerable to partisan election officials.  However, it also means that the secrecy of the ballot in Texas during the election itself is a little less secret than it used to be.

It’s rather ironic when one considers that we live in an age in which corporate donors to the Republican Party are fighting to keep their political donations secret, while voters must publicly declare their party preferences in order to exercise their voting rights.

Image: April Smith

12 Replies to “Voting Without Confidence: Texas’ Not So Secret Ballot”

  1. Yet another reason to force Mexico to take Texas back, then build a wall around Texas to keep them out of America.

  2. These Dem voters should write their affiliation on an index card and “flash” the election officials. Why should they have to SAY anything?

  3. Illinois does the same thing during primaries…you get,a ballot with either Dems or Reps!! You can’t vote a split ticket.

  4. well texas was known as new spain, and new santenderos were independent spanish settlers who owned haciendas on both sides of the border/rio grande . the united states annexation of texas in 1848 promised settlers whom were neither mexican or american nor texan ,were promised us citizen ship voting rights and our property rights were to be respected the u s. govenrments broken /failed promises, towards native american and spanish settlers,not only were native americans exterminated by the texas rangers snd texas spaniards were also exterminated by the texas rangers they were referred to as bandits and thieves cattle rustlers on there home land of 200 years on both sides of the border , camargo nlt was settled by the spainish in 1539 on both sides of the and left new spaniards asses hanging in the breeze ,and texas republic of said our land deeds were null and void under english law which wasnt so cause south texas ranchlands were lands gifted to spanish families

  5. by king carlos the third ,it was argued in court in the 1900s and texas lands couldnt be taxed or lost to quit claim sales deeds as happened to the hinojosas solis our lands were supposed to be ajudicated under spanish law . and english law as the courts of texas did which was illegal in 1875 international courtall the minerals extracted byoil nd gas companies royalties are supposed to be belong to our families we should have never lost our ranches onquit claim sales tax deeds for the amounts totaling 1.05 cents ,1.06 cents ,5.00a nd 5.06s and the grand theft of land of the 1800s was perpetrated on our families millions of acres this is shame ful s b 724 in the texsa legislature needs t be settled by knowing rick perry his a oil and gas corporatist and we will never see justice done to our families the ballies hinojosas and thousands of other families

  6. The same thing happens in most states. The difference being that in other states you’re a registered D or R or I, and when they check off your name they hand you the appropriate ballot. In Texas you have to walk into the door flanked by the KKK to the table manned by the Wives of the KKK and tell them right then and there which ticket you’re going to vote, then you have to hand it back to them.

    The other neato thing in TX is that the R ticket has one checkmark on it, “Vote All Republican” at the top, and if you want to go quick and dirty, you check that one box. That box is NOT available on the Democratic ticket. So, if you’re a Democrat and they shut down your polling place and you have to hop three buses 50 miles to get to the polls, you have to read and vote each and every name and ballot measure. There’s probably 6 times as many people waiting for half as many booths as the R’s have in the polling place a few blocks from home where they have to go “bip” and be done.

  7. I knew something was up because Snott Walker and cronies passed a law preventing straight party votes. This increases the time per person which increases the time in line. And now they are shortening early voting to those hours when people are at work, and ending weekend voting thus insuring that working people will find it nearly impossible to vote early at all.

  8. Your article states flatly that Kesha Rogers has “hatred” for “Americans having access to affordable healthcare.” Shame on you. Rogers supports Single Payer health care along the lines of John Conyers’ “Medicare for All” bill. That’s “affordable healthcare”. Obamacare, which Rogers opposes, is just another facet of the endless Wall Street bailout, because it compels Americans to buy private insurance (with no guarantee that they will actually get any health care — it turns the nation into a giant HMO.)

    I know that there is only one day left before the vote, but could you folks make an effort to tell the truth?

  9. So, why hasn’t someone sued the state or county (or whatever level prints the ballots in Texas) in federal court? The ballots you described certainly are a violation of federal law, though proving it, even in a federal court, in Texas is not a forgone conclusion.

    I am just glad I only lived in Texas for about 9 months back in the ’80s. I was going to stay a year but could not take it, and that was in Dallas.

  10. That’s not that unusual. We do it in Kansas, probably for the same reason. You get to vote in your party’s primary, so we (I have been an election official) ask what ballot you want. In Kansas you have to register as a Republican to get a GOP ballot, but the Democrats do not require that.
    BTW, I’m a Democrat.

  11. 1) I have been getting “That look!” for as long as I have voted in TX. I still fail to understand how it can be “SECRET” if you have to tell observers what party you are voting for (or against).
    2) Try voting absentee in Texas. I did that for years when I was driving an 18-wheeler. You had to jump thru hoops and then some.

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