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.
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