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Two election-related bills to watch

From the Texas Election Law Blog:

For this legislative session, Representative Mike Lang has filed two bills to further a couple longstanding goals that have been planks in the Texas Republican Party’s party platform; namely (1) enforcing voter registration by party (see party plank 66), and (2) drastically cutting down on the frequency with which elections take place (party plank 76).

I. CLOSING THE DOOR ON OPEN PRIMARIES – VOTER REGISTRATION BY PARTY

H.B. 1072 — Sometimes, voters who philosophically identify with one party or the other will “cross over” to vote for spoiler candidates who happen to be running for nomination in the other party’s primary election. To combat this, Representative Lang has authored legislation to enforce closed primaries by requiring voters to register by party

Voter registration by party is a common feature of registration in a number of states that have so-called “closed” primary elections, such as New Mexico, New York, and Oregon. (In this context, a primary election is “closed” if the election is administered in such a way as to exclude participation by voters who are not registered as members of the same party).

Current state law already specifies that by voting in a party primary, a person affiliates with that party for a full calendar year, and is prohibited from voting for or signing a nominating petition for any candidate not affiliated with that party.

But under current Texas law, registered voters are not compelled to self-identify as being members of one party or another, and functionally are unaffiliated with any party unless and until they decide to vote in one or another party primary election. Additionally, under current law, Texas voters aren’t permanently assigned to be members of one party or another.

H.B. 1072 proposes a change in the existing law by outlining a procedure for permanent voter registration by party affiliation in Texas.

[…]

II. FEWER ELECTIONS

H.B. 1271 – A reduction in the number and frequency of local elections is (as noted above) a key legislative goal of the Republican Party.

Prior to 2005 (and the enactment that year of H.B. 57, which eliminated the winter and summer election dates, and severely curtailed the capacity of local governments to order special elections for non-uniform election dates), elections in Texas were traditionally conducted on one of four days in a year. Winter elections took place in January (later moved to February), Spring elections happened in April (later moved to May), Summer elections were held in July (later moved to August), and Fall elections were held in November.

Winter elections tended (for reasons relating to fiscal budget cycles) to be bond elections for cities and school districts. Spring elections were officer elections for local governments. Summer elections were used for run-offs, local incorporations, and some small government officer elections. And the November elections were (as they are now) the “big show” – federal and state officer elections in even-numbered years, and state constitutional amendment elections in odd-numbered years.

In a bold stroke as part of an omnibus school finance bill enacted in the third called special legislative session in 2006, local elections in odd-numbered years were largely eliminated with a change in the Texas Education Code regarding school district board election schedules.

Subsequent legislative efforts have been focused on “cleaning up” all those nooks and crannies of state law that still permit some flexibility on election scheduling, in order to further limit the number of elections taking place in any particular year.

H.B. 1271 would get rid of all elections in odd-numbered years, and all May elections.

The bill would limit all elections (including bond elections, water district elections, local government elections of all forms, etc.), by requiring that these elections either take place on the same day as the political primaries or the statewide officer elections (i.e., the first Tuesday of March or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of even-numbered years).

The main effect of HB1072 would be to lower turnout in primary elections. There’s certainly a case to be made that only Republican voters should choose Republican candidates and only Democratic voters should choose Democratic candidates (*), which is not how it is with open primaries. I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about this bill, but as it is with many other bills these days I don’t see that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. I’ve never felt the need to vote in a Republican primary, but I do know some people who have done that for a variety of personal and strategic reasons. I don’t see any reason to believe enough people do that to make a difference, but whatever.

As for HB1271, I recall during Tom Craddick’s time as Speaker that some people pushed for even-year-November-only elections on the grounds that it would make all elections more explicitly partisan, which (given that this was being pushed by conservative groups) would presumably redound to the benefit of the Republicans. I have a hard time understanding the logic of that now – in Houston, at least, the main effect would be for turnout in city elections to be much higher, with a more diverse electorate, which I think we can all agree would not be beneficial for Republican candidates. I’ll put it to you this way – under the pre-2011 Houston Council Council map, only Districts A, E, and G would be clearly Republican-leaning, with the city as a whole being easily over 60% Democratic. We would not have the Council we have today if our most recent city election had been this past November. Beyond the illusory “savings” outlined in the post, I’m honestly not sure what the goal of this bill would be, given who its supporters are. Be careful what you wish for, is what I’m saying.

(*) Green and Libertarian candidates are chosen by convention rather than primary, so this doesn’t directly apply to them.

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One Comment

  1. voter_worker says:

    HB 1072 mandates a mass-mailout by all Texas voter registrars informing registered voters of the party affiliation declaration and requiring a response by the voter, using the enclosed form, which must be received by the registrar no later than December 31, 2017 indicating the voter’s desired affiliation. Failure to respond by the deadline will result in the voter automatically being designated Independent and therefore ineligible to vote in the 2018 D and R primaries.

    I suspect there will be many voters showing up for the 2018 primaries and not finding themselves on the poll list because they overlooked the requirement to update their record prior to December 31, 2017.

    SECTION 33. (a) Not later than October 1, 2017, the voter
    registrar of each county shall mail to each registered voter in the
    county notice of the affiliation requirement necessary to vote in a
    party primary election or to participate in the affairs of a
    political party. The notice must:
    (1) inform the voter that to vote in a party primary
    election or to otherwise participate in the affairs of a political
    party the voter must be affiliated with that party;
    (2) inform the voter of the process of affiliation
    with the voter registrar and state that if a voter does not provide
    an affiliation, the voter’s next registration certificate will
    indicate that the voter is “independent” and unable to vote in a
    party’s primary;
    (3) include a postage paid postcard that may be
    returned to the voter registrar to indicate the voter’s
    affiliation; and
    (4) be in the form prescribed by the secretary of
    state.
    (b) If a registered voter does not indicate a party
    affiliation before December 31, 2017, the voter registrar shall
    list the voter’s initial affiliation status as “independent.”
    (c) The change in law made by Section 18.005(a), Election
    Code, as amended by this Act, requiring that each list of registered
    voters must indicate the political affiliation of each voter
    applies only to a list of registered voters produced by a voter
    registrar on or after December 31, 2017.
    (d) The change in law made by Section 15.001(a), Election
    Code, as amended by this Act, requiring that each voter
    registration certificate must indicate the political affiliation
    of the voter applies only to a certificate effective for voting on
    or after January 1, 2018.