Writer's Note: This column appeared in the Collin County Opinion section of the Dallas Morning News, Jan. 11, 2007.
Six years ago, our very own state senator, Republican Florence Shapiro of Plano, introduced Senate Bill 79, a so-called “election reform bill,” to reduce the number of dates when local elections (notably for bond and civic propositions) could be held in Texas. She deemed it as (laughingly) reform.
She cited “voter fatigue and apathy” as the reasons for such anti-democratic measures because “the citi¬zens of Texas must go to the polls far too often.” Of course, that was BEFORE Texas men and women were sent overseas to assist other countries trying to vote just … often … if at all.
Her point was this: frequency to exercise the basic American right, to select one’s government, made people NOT want to participate. It makes you wonder why she wants to be elected in the first place. Oddly, the party primaries, always held on NON-uniform election dates, were untouched by the legislation.
It’s too bad that Ms. Shapiro always had it wrong – issues and candidates (or the lack of both) cause people to stay away from the ballot box. When people don’t care, they don’t act and react; and they don’t vote. But, for one momentary lapse of judgment, let’s accept her premise as true; people stay home because it’s too hard to vote (like going a root canal at the dentist). Here are some suggestions to simplify the process – from the top down:
National one-day primary – A national primary would prevent one or two states, with the population equal to that of Prosper or McKinney, from dictating these outcomes for the other 300 million Americans. Everyone should have a voice in making the determi¬nation. It would focus campaigns, re¬sources and make a Texan’s voter count equally to people in New Hampshire, South Carolina or Iowa.
Shorter national campaign period – The primary should be held in late August, or as close to Labor Day weekend as possible. In Texas, filings start in early December and the ads and high-handed pres¬sure tactics begin almost immediately. That, ladies and gentlemen, causes real “campaign fatigue” among voters.
Sunday 24-hour voting – Other nations hold elections on Sundays, without the pressure of the work day. The voting periods are also 24 hours long in order to accommodate different schedules. In days gone by, the first Tuesday in November might have made sense for farmers, but in the 21st century, it needs to be changed.
Online voting access – If I can order any item in the world and maintain reasonable security of vital information, a process should be able to be installed that would allow me to avoid long lines, bad weather and any other reason I select. A system can be written that would keep me from voting more than once and from falsifying my identity, and with a click of the mouse, I can verify (on paper) my choices.
More non-partisan elections – Why should the county sheriff be a Democrat or Republican? He or she is just the top elected cop? Why should partisanship extend to the county clerk’s office, etc.? Take that aspect out of the elections, hold one vote with an open field of candidates (plus runoffs if needed) and you eliminate one full level of campaigning and expenditure. Plus the field might improve.
You cannot vote every four years, or once a year, and think you really make a dif¬ference. That ONLY comes through local involvement where the choices made are determined by friends and neighbors. There is something slightly un-democratic about taking away opportunities for people to vote – regardless of the number of times. You cannot posture with one hand, espousing “local control,” and then take it away with the other hand. If a school board or council feels the time is proper for a bond election, the state should never interfere.
The ONLY way “the people” can be heard is at the ballot box. It’s their Constitutional right to have a say on various questions – from council representation to bond propositions. To do anything to take away that right drills holes in the entire concept of freedom in the United States.
Last time I looked, Texas was part of the U.S.A.