Texans Leave Voting to a Small Minority
It doesn’t take very many people to win an election in Texas. The court battle over redistricting is pushing the primaries closer to summertime — creating the real possibility that Texas Republicans will have no say in who their presidential nominee should be.
Political observers say this means this year's Texas voter turnout could be even lower than it usually is.
Presidential elections draw crowds. Democrats surprised everyone in 2008 by getting all the way to Super Tuesday without having decided between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Republicans had already settled on John McCain. That year, Democrats attracted 16.2 percent of the eligible adults in Texas, while Republicans got half that many with 7.7 percent.
Together, only one in four eligible Texas voters got involved in picking the Presidential candidate four years ago. That’s electoral anemia, but in Texas it's regarded as an outstanding year.
Sadly, it's going to be worse this year. Even fewer people are expected to vote. The Texas primaries were supposed to happen less than three weeks from now, and Republicans would have had a pretty good chance of voting before their party settled on a presidential nominee. That would also produce a good turnout of voters, but that date has vaporized in the the litigation over redistricting.
It now appears that the primaries will be held on May 29 at the earliest, and possibly even later. Election administrators from across the state told federal judges that any date earlier than May 29 would set them up for failure because of legally required voter registration deadlines, required dates for early voting, required time lines and deadlines for overseas military personnel voting and several other factors.
The court has all but ruled out a split primary, with the presidential elections in April and everything else, from the United States Senate races down to the county races at the bottom of the ballot, in May or June. That's expensive, and lawyers say the state can’t pay for it.
A late primary could also suppress turnout. Voting in June — after school is out and summer plans are under way — won’t get people off their couches, especially if the races are boring. If there’s not a good fight on the ballot, civic responsibility is the only motivation to vote. Even a May 29 primary comes with a summer problem: the runoff following that election would fall on July 31.
It's beginning to look like the primary season will be all but over and the 2012 Republican Presidential candidate will be known before Texas Republicans get a chance to weigh in. At least two, and maybe even three of the four remaining GOP hopefuls will have fallen out by the time Texas gets to vote.
Texas Republicans can thank their stonewalling legislative leaders' unwillingness to compromise for this state of affairs. But, it does take two to compromise, and Texas Democrats also deserve some of the blame. Leaders of minority groups who challenged the redistricting in court have also refused to make any compromise that would help resolve the dispute.