Voters • Why Vote? • From the perspective of the individual, voting may not seem logical, but many people vote nonetheless because they have been taught that it is their duty to do so. • Candidates must remember that each individual voter has his or her own motivations, ideology, and hopes for the future. • From the perspective of the political system, voting is crucial because it legitimizes the government, decreases alienation and opposition, influences public policy, and, when done on a large scale, insures against dishonesty in elections. • Although one vote almost never matters, democracy depends upon each citizen acting as if it does.
Voters • Suffrage • The expansion of the right to vote has been one of the most important historical developments in American politics. • The U.S. Constitution originally delegated to the states the power to determine voter eligibility in all elections and restrictions on suffrage were widespread. • Because states generally restricted the suffrage to adult white male property owners who professed a certain religious belief, only about five percent of the almost four million people counted in the first national census in 1790 were eligible to vote. • Since the beginning of the 19th century, restrictions on voting have been gradually removed. • Church membership and property ownership were removed as qualifications for voting in the 1820s and 1830s. • The Civil War Amendments were enacted to guarantee full political rights to freed slaves, but the Southern states reacted with legal (and illegal) restrictions that were not lifted until Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. • The 19th Amendment enfranchised women in 1920 and the 26th Amendment (1971) lowered the minimum voting age to 18.
Voters • Suffrage, cont. • Several things stand out in the history of the evolution of voting. • In the U.S. voting rights have been substantially nationalized as states, when enacting voting laws, must now stay within guidelines established by the U.S. Constitution, Congress, and the Supreme Court. • Southern states, including Texas, attempted to evade and obstruct the post-Civil War amendments and, later, the Voting Rights Act, resulting in lower voting turnouts in the South than in the North. • The federal government gradually defeated these antidemocratic schemes so that by the mid 1970s all adult Americans had the legal right to vote.
Voters • Registration • The Purposes of Voter Registration • Every political system has a system of registration to distinguish those who are qualified to vote from those who are not. • Most countries make registering easy, with many governments going to great lengths to make sure that all citizens are registered before every election. • In Texas, however, registration laws were used after the Civil War to keep voter turnout down. • During the first part of the 20th century, the poll tax, a $1.50 fee due before January 31, served as the state's system of registration. • After the poll tax was declared unconstitutional in 1966, the Texas legislature adopted a system of annual registration (between October 1 and January 31 only) that also discriminated against those with little education, but this law, too, was declared unconstitutional - a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - by a federal district court in 1971.
Voters • Registration, cont. • Voter Registration in Texas Today • In 1971, the Texas legislature passed a new law making registration much easier. • As amended, that law includes these provisions: • Voters may register in person or by mail. • Registration remains in effect as long as the voter remains qualified. • Voters may register at any time and vote in any election, provided they are registered 30 days before the election. • To vote in Texas, one must be all of the following: • A U.S. citizen at least 18 years of age by election day. • A resident of the state and county for the 30 days immediately preceding election day. • A resident of the election precinct on election day. • Registered to vote at least 30 days before election day.
Texas Turnout • Government by the People? • Voter turnout in Texas (the proportion of the eligible voters who actually cast ballots), although climbing unevenly, remains below national levels. • In the quarter century since the new registration law went into effect, an average of 45.7 percent of eligible Texans turned out for presidential elections and 27.4 percent turned out for off-year congressional elections. • Texas government is never "by the people," but, at best, by half the people and often a quarter or fewer of the people.
Texas Turnout • Why Don't Texans Vote? • Political Socialization • The institutions of socialization in Texas--family, schools, churches, mass media, and others--do not encourage the state’s children to be politically active. • Texans are taught to accept the political system, not to participate in it. • The political party system • Voter turnout tends to be higher in those states where political parties are more competitive and better organized. • While party competition in the South, including Texas, has increased in recent years as the Republican party has become more active, parties in Texas remain weak and voting levels are still below the rates that prevail in the rest of the country. • Socioeconomic and ethnic status • Texas's high poverty rate contributes to low voter turnout since the poor are less likely to vote than the wealthy. • African Americans and Hispanics have lower voter turnout rates than Anglos.
Texas Turnout • The Consequences of Nonvoting • Because minority citizens tend to be more liberal than Anglos, their low voter turnout rates contribute to the conservative character of public policy in Texas. • Democrats, especially those in the liberal wing of the party, are the ones who suffer most from low voter turnout among minorities. • Disparities in ethnic voter turnout rates compels a modification in the portrait of the state undergoing a realignment from a normal Democratic majority to a Republican majority. • The realignment scenario depends on a continuation of ethnic differences in turnout. • Republicans will continue to dominate Texas as long as its minority citizens continue to stay away from the voting booths.
Election Campaigns • Campaign Resources: People • The two resources all candidates need are people and money. • Both professionals and volunteers are needed. • Professionals plan, organize, and manage the campaign, write the speeches, and raise the money. • Volunteers distribute literature, register and canvass voters, and get supporters to the polls on election day. • Volunteering in a campaign is useful not only to the candidate but to the volunteers themselves and to the democratic process. • Volunteers learn, in many different ways, to be good citizens. • While voluntary participation, the first major resource of campaigns, is entirely uncontroversial, there is great controversy about money.
Election Campaigns • Campaign Resources: Money • Money is the most important campaign resource, except in municipal elections where volunteers are most important. • Politicians need money to publicize their candidacies, especially over television. • Except at the Presidential level, the United States is one of the few democracies in the world that does not have publicly funded campaigns. • In the United States at every level except the Presidency, privately funded campaigns are relied upon. • While the candidate with the most money does not always win---Tony Sanchez outspent Rick Perry more than two to one---the candidate who spends the most money wins most of the time and the more money they spend the more votes they tend to receive. • Money is always a necessary, if not a sufficient, resource.
Election Campaigns • Campaign Resources: Money, cont. • Where Does the Money Come From? • Because most campaign funds come from wealthy donors who represent some sort of special interest, private funding of campaigns skews public policy in favor of special interests. • Following the 2002 U.S. Senate election the people and interests who supported John Cornyn, the winner, had more influence over his decisions about public policy than the people who supported Ron Kirk. • While money is very important, other resources, such as volunteers, imagination, ideology, partisanship, and personality, also play a part. • The unequal distribution of wealth in society gives a very few citizens access to a very large political resource and thus seems dangerous to democratic government. • Although politicians generally dislike the system of private campaign financing, the special interests who benefit from the current system have thus far been successful in preventing reform.
Election Campaigns • Control of Money in Campaigns • Because the power of money in campaigns seems to create an inequality of citizenship, many efforts to control the impact of money have been made over the years. • Several federal and state laws have been passed in the past 25 years to control campaign financing, yet wealthy individuals are still able to purchase more political influence than their fellow citizens. • The Revenue Act of 1971 • This federal law was intended to broaden the base of financial support and minimize the dependence of candidates on large donations from a few contributors. • The Revenue Act of 1971 provides for the partial public funding of presidential campaigns through an income tax checkoff. • The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972 • The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972 effected several reforms pertaining to campaigns for federal offices. • It established the Federal Elections Commission. • It requires candidates to report their contributions and expenses. • It limits individual contributions to $1,000 in each primary or general election and a maximum of $25,000 in a given year. • It limits group contributions to $5,000 per candidate.
Election Campaigns • Control of Money in Campaigns, cont. • The Texas Campaign Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1973 • The Texas Campaign Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1973 outlines procedures for campaign reporting and disclosure. • It requires every candidate and every political committee in the state to appoint a campaign treasurer before accepting contributions or making expenditures. • It permits contributions by out-of-state groups of over $500 only if the names of contributors of $100 or more are disclosed. • It requires detailed financial reports listing all contributions and expenditures more than $50. • It provides both civil and criminal penalties for violators. • The 1973 law was seriously flawed by its failure to provide an enforcement mechanism or to impose limits on the amount that individuals and organizations could contribute to campaigns.
Election Campaigns • Control of Money in Campaigns, cont. • 1991 Ethics Law • The Ethics Law of 1991 created an Ethics Commission with authority to hold hearings on public complaints, levy fines, and report severe violations to the Travis County district attorney for possible prosecution, but the law fails to limit campaign contributions and its enforcement provisions are difficult to implement. • Attempts to strengthen the Ethics Law in 1995 were limited to judicial campaigns and in 2003 the law was amended to apply more vigorously to lobbying but no changes were made to provisions that applied to campaigning. • According to a Sunset Commission study, the Texas Ethics Commission has never issued a subpoena or referred a complaint for criminal prosecution nor does it have the authority to compel targets of investigations to respond. • Thus, there is virtually no control over, and very little effort to ensure the public disclosure of, the influence of money in Texas political campaigns.
Election Campaigns • Control of Money in Campaigns, cont. • Hard v. Soft • In the landmark case of Buckley v. Valeo, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that statutory limits on the amount of money a candidate could contribute to his or her own campaign violated the First Amendment's free speech guarantee. • The decision also allows political action committees (PACs) to contribute unlimited amounts for "party building" at the state and local levels. • Because the FEC has been reluctant to try to distinguish between "party building" activities (“soft money”) and direct campaign expenditures (“hard money”), PACs contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars of so-called "soft money" during every election cycle. • Texas's attorney general ruled that Buckley v. Valeo voided spending limits in Texas law and thus Clayton Williams was able to spend $10 million of his own money in his unsuccessful run for the governorship in 1990. • In the years after Buckley v. Valeo soft money came to dominate political giving and it became clear that the distinction between parties and candidates was based on an illusion. • In 2002 Congress passed the McCain-Feingold law that attempted to outlaw soft money contributions to national parties
Election Campaigns • Negative Campaigning • The use of personal attacks on candidates by their opponents is another disturbing characteristic of contemporary campaigning. • Because candidates believe such tactics are effective and because they can almost always dig up some dirt on each other, they are emphasizing personal attacks more and more. • All over the country, the campaigns of the 1990s and 2000s were particularly bad years for negative campaigning. • Negative campaigning is harmful to democracy for four reasons. • Some elections are being decided on the basis of inaccurate or irrelevant charges. • Discussions of public policy are being pushed aside. • Many good people may decide not to enter public life where they may be publicly humiliated. • Citizens are disheartened and thus more apt to stay home on election day. • Negative campaigning in Texas seems no worse than it is in most other states, but that is bad enough.
Election Public Elections Campaigns • Primary Elections • A primary is an election held within a party to nominate candidates for the general election or to choose delegates to a presidential nominating convention. • The importance of primaries in Texas accounts for the weakness of parties. • Texas holds its primary election on the second Tuesday in March in even-numbered years. • The Texas Election Code requires that any party whose gubernatorial candidate received at least 20 percent of the vote in the last general election must nominate its candidates using primaries. • If no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the primary, a primary runoff election involving the two leading candidates is held 30 days later.
Election Public Elections Campaigns • Primary Elections, cont. • Texas’ “open” primary • In a blanket primary all candidates of all parties run on one list, and any registered voter can participate. • The open primary is one in which any registered voter may participate in a party's primary. • The closed primary is one in which only registered members of a party may participate in that party's primary. • Although Texas technically has a closed primary, in practice voters may participate in any primary so long as they have not already voted in the primary of another party during the same year. • The Texas primary is closed only in the sense that once voters have voted in one party’s primary they cannot participate in the affairs of the other party, including its primary, runoff, and convention, during the same year.
Election Public Elections Campaigns • Primary Elections, cont. • Candidates obtain a place on the ballot by applying to the state executive committee for statewide office or to the county chairperson for local office and paying a filing fee. • A candidate must poll a majority in the first primary or go on to a primary runoff a month later. • The requirement that a majority of the vote is needed to win the primary election is peculiar to the South. • In one-party states of the South, the Democratic primary field was often so crowded that the winning candidate might get no more than 25 or 30 percent of the total vote in the primary and then face no opposition in the general election. • When Held • For most of the century, Texas held its primary in May with the result that liberal candidates were wrapping-up the nomination in the earlier primaries in Northern states. • Texas joined with most other Southern states in 1988 to create a regional “super primary” held in March, but now Texas primaries are held on the second Tuesday in March.
Election Public Elections Campaigns • Primary Elections, cont. • Administration and finance • Primary elections in Texas are administered entirely by party officials. • Most work associated with primary elections is done by the county chairperson and members of the county executive committee. • The actual voting is supervised by a presiding judge and an alternate appointed in each precinct by the county chairperson. • Primary elections were financed entirely by candidate filing fees until 1973 when the 63rd Legislature enacted a law providing for a combination of state and private funding with more reasonable filing fees.
Election Public Elections Campaigns • General Elections • General elections are held in even-numbered years on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November to choose state and national executives and legislators, and state judges. • Since 1974, the governor and other state officials in Texas have been elected in "off year" elections. • General and special elections are the responsibility of the state with most of the actual work performed at the county level. • Nominees of established parties are placed on the ballot after being selected in a party primary or convention while new parties and independent candidates must qualify by gathering signatures on petitions. • Primary election ballots vary from party to party while ballots for general elections vary in style from county to county. • Ballots list candidates for all offices to be filled (in descending order of importance), followed by constitutional amendments and local referendum questions, if any.
Election Public Elections Campaigns • Special Elections • Special elections may be called to fill vacancies in Congress or in the legislature, or to vote on proposed constitutional amendments. • At the local level, most cities choose their councils in special elections, which, because they are nonpartisan and therefore deny the voters the guidance of the party label, are even more confusing than general elections. • Absentee or Early Voting • Texas voters may vote absentee for a period of two weeks before the election at the county clerk's office or at a variety of polling places throughout the county. • Prior to 1987, absentee voting was restricted to those with cause (such as illness or a planned absence from the county). • With the removal of all restrictions on absentee voting, voting levels have increased slightly, with 25 to 40 percent of voters casting early ballots.
Elections of 1994 through 2000 • Political realignment arrived in Texas in 1994 when Republicans won the governorship, retained a U.S. Senate seat, picked up two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, won two Railroad Commission seats, captured majorities on the state supreme court and board of education, and increased their representation in the Texas legislature. • Lower-income Anglos, Mexican Americans, and African Americans continued to provide the base of Democratic support, but the 1994 election demonstrated that, given the low voter turnout of minority citizens, this coalition is insufficient to win. • Republicans made perhaps their most significant gains in the judiciary, winning every seat they contested on the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court. • Republicans won their first majority on the supreme court since Reconstruction. • The long-term result of the Republican court victories was to replace plaintiff-oriented, pro-lawsuit judges with business-oriented, anti-lawsuit judges. • That political realignment was real was illustrated by the results of the 1996, 1998, and 2000 elections.
Election of 2002 • Attempting to counter President Bush’s popularity nationally and at home, Democrats nominated candidates who they hoped would energize their electoral base. • An African American, Ron Kirk, was nominated for the U.S. Senate, a Mexican American, Tony Sanchez, was nominated for governor, and an Anglo, John Sharp, was nominated for lieutenant governor in hope that each would attract votes of their own ethnic group. • In addition, Tony Sanchez was a multimillionaire who contributed more than $60 million to his own campaign. • Although Latino and African American turnout was up slightly, GOP candidates won every statewide office and captured control of the House for the first time since Reconstruction.
Election of 2002 • The 2002 campaign was the most vicious and the least democratically informative contest that ay one could remember, with the race for governor being the most deplorable as Rick Perry accused Sanchez of being a murderer. • The campaign of 2002 fell far short of constituting a good democratic election as candidates failed to inform the electorate by debating issues, contenting themselves with spending their money on misleading personal attacks, and voters mainly staying home on election day.
Conclusion • Problems • The low voter turnout in state elections raises serious questions about the legitimacy of government in Texas. • Especially low voter turnout among minorities skews public policy away from the patterns that would prevail if all citizens voted. • The great impact of money on elections suggests that wealthy elites may control the policy process, rendering citizen participation irrelevant.
Conclusion • Prospects • Now that the old barriers to voting are gone, voter turnout rates are rising slowly. • The gubernatorial campaigns of 1990 and 2000 proved that money is not all that matters in Texas politics, and the Republican surge in 1994 demonstrated that the electorate can make informed choices. • The system has many flaws to be corrected, but there is some reason to hope that they may be correctable.