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State and Local Elections


State and Local Elections GOVT 2306 Some elections in the state are partisan and some are non-partisan. In some elections, a candidate s party identification is ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: State and Local Elections

State and Local Elections
  • GOVT 2306

In this section we look at general features of
elections in the states and in local governments.
This will set us up for a more detailed look at
elections in Texas in subsequent sections.
This section also allows us to begin to bridge
over to a discussion of political institutions.
Elections are generally fought over what types
of things the governing institutions weve
discussed previously ought to do. What laws they
should pass, how those laws should be
implemented, and how they should be adjudicated
Elections encourage the development of political
institutions such as political parties and
interest groups.As we will see, elections in
the Texas are fully controlled by Texas two
largest political parties the Democrats and
Republicans with the Republicans Party
developing a consistent advantage over the
Democrats over the past couple decades.
Texas is also dominated by certain types of
interest groups, notably business groups and
those supporting conservative social
policies.They will also be discussed in a
future section.
It might be a good idea to review the definition
of politics we mentioned earlier this
semester.1- The authoritative allocation of
values in society.2 - The struggle over who
gets what when and how.3 - Intrigue or
maneuvering within a political unit in order to
gain control or power
Note the last definition especially. It gets to
the heart of what elections are all about. They
offer the opportunity for a political unit to
gain control of the governing institutions. Doing
so allows them to turn their interests into law.
This explains why election campaigns can be
pretty brutal.
Remember that the political process involves
struggle. This struggle can be seen in the
conflict between parties, interest groups and the
segments of the population that identifies with
This is different from how we defined the word
government. This was defined as the
institutions that had the authority to pass,
implement and adjudicate the law. The fact that
these institutions are elected means that the
manner in which they do so is impacted by the
Legislative, executive and judicial institutions
in Texas are not neutral. They are accountable to
the majority of the electorate that is, the
people who actually vote in elections in the
Elections are also responsible for providing a
sense of legitimacy to governing institutions.
It allows for the electorate to offer or deny
consent to what they do.
And they also allow for well organized groups to
dominate the governing process, that is, to
control what laws get passed, how they are
implemented, and how disputes are adjudicated.
This is what makes elections important.
Political disputes work their way into the
governing process
Lets define the term election quickly
What is an election? It is a formal means by
which a population (the electorate) can make a
decision about a public matter. This can include
who holds a governmental office or what public
policies ought to be implemented. It is up to the
people who set up each governing system to
determine the extent of decisions that can be
determined by an election.
Elections are perhaps the central feature of
democratic governments.They are the means by
which the people can impact the direction of
government and offer or deny consent to
whatever it does.
I put the people in quotation marks because the
electorate is not always opened everyone in a
governing system. The right to vote is not
always opened to everyone, and even those
eligible to vote in elections do not necessarily
In GOVT 2305 you would have learned that the
United States Constitution reserves to the states
the power to make laws regarding elections,
including the decision about who gets to
vote.They can make laws adjusting them, but by
and large elections are governed by each of the
50 states that conducts them.
Heres a quick reminder of the relevant parts of
the US Constitution.
Here are relevant quotes from Article One which
establishes Congress.
Section Two The House of Representatives shall
be composed of Members chosen every second Year
by the People of the several States, and the
Electors in each State shall have the
Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most
numerous Branch of the State Legislature.
Remember that the U.S. House of Representatives
was originally the only institution on the
national level that had a direct connection with
the general population.
As initially written, states determined who was
able to vote without restrictions by the national
government, but this was modified by a series of
amendments to the United States Constitution
beginning with the 15th Amendment which was added
following the Civil War. Heres the language
The right of citizens of the United States to
vote shall not be denied or abridged by the
United States or by any State on account of race,
color, or previous condition of servitude.
Since then, additional amendments have further
restricted the factors states can use to limit
the ability of people to vote.We cover this
separately in the section on suffrage.
Heres more from Article One, Section TwoWhen
vacancies happen in the Representation from any
state, the executive authority thereof shall
issue writs of election to fill such vacancies.
If there is a vacancy in the U.S. House, the
governor of each state can set an election so
that the people in the house district can send a
replacement.Note that the decision is made in
each state, by the electorate in each district,
not by the national government.
And still more from Article One, Section Two as
modified by Section Two of the 14th Amendment
Representatives shall be apportioned among the
several states according to their respective
numbers, counting the whole number of persons in
each state, excluding Indians not taxed.
This says nothing about what each representative
will in fact represent. States could choose to
have each representative to represent the state
at large, but instead they have all decided to
have them represent single member districts drawn
throughout the state. Each state is able to draw
those districts themselves. The Texas legislature
is responsible for doing so, but the task is
usually delegated to the Texas Redistricting
We cover redistricting in a separate section, but
it is a very controversial process.Texas is
commonly accused of gerrymandering districts,
which tends to reduce the competitiveness of
elections in the state.
Article One, Section Three The Senate of the
United States shall be composed of two Senators
from each state, chosen by the legislature
thereof, for six years and each Senator shall
have one vote.
Remember that as originally designed the U.S.
Senate was tied into the state legislatures. They
made the decision about who would represent the
interests of the state government nationally.
This was altered by the 17th Amendment The
Senate of the United States shall be composed of
two Senators from each state, elected by the
people thereof, for six years and each Senator
shall have one vote. The electors in each state
shall have the qualifications requisite for
electors of the most numerous branch of the state
Section 4 The Times, Places and Manner of
holding Elections for Senators and
Representatives, shall be prescribed in each
State by the Legislature thereof but the
Congress may at any time by Law make or alter
such Regulations, except as to the Places of
chusing Senators.
Initially, the most that Congress could do was to
alter election laws in order to make sure they
are held at the same time. Each state was
responsible for its own elections laws. As we
will see soon enough, Texas laws can be found in
its election code.
Title 4 of the Texas Election Code concerns the
time and place of elections.Chapters 41, 42,
and 43.
From Article Two Each State shall appoint, in
such Manner as the Legislature thereof may
direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole
Number of Senators and Representatives to which
the State may be entitled in the Congress.
Title 11 of the Election Code covers this process
in the state.
Chapter 191 describes how delegates to presidents
are selected to go to each partys national
nominating conventions.
Chapter 192 describes how presidential electors
are selected.
Altogether these parts of the US Constitution
state that elections for the US House, Senate and
Presidency are to be designed by each state.
These are contained in each states Election
This means that elections in the United States
are largely state affairs.
In a legal sense, there is no such thing as a
national election in the United States. Even
the president is elected in a process that is
governed by each of the 50 states separately. The
way the electoral college votes is up to each
There is such a things as a national campaign
however but thats a different subject.
The national government does have rules that
ensure that the manner in which elections are run
are done in accordance with the 14th Amendments
requirement that people are treated equally
before the law. The most important of these
laws are the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the
Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barred
the unequal application of voter registration
requirements and the use of literacy tests to
screen out voters.
The Voting Rights Act prohibited a range of
tactics used by states and local governments to
restrict access voting rights of certain
Texas is one of a handful of states that were put
under scrutiny by the federal government in the
act. This as referred to as pre- clearance, since
changes to election laws had to be pre-cleared by
a panel of federal judges. The states and local
areas affected by the laws were those that had a
history of racial discrimination. This was the
map of area that were subject to pre-clearance
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Texas and other affected areas worked to limit
its impact on the state. Ultimately this map was
thrown out by the Supreme Court, though the
principle of preclearance is still legal.For a
look at recent efforts to limit the impact of the
VRA, click here for the Supreme Court case Shelby
v. Holder.
Well cover these in a separate section on voting
rights in Texas, as well as the ongoing
controversies associated with the act.
Neither the Civil Rights or Voting Rights Acts
concern the specifics of how elections are
carried out. They simply ensure that state and
local election laws do not violate certain
principles established in the United States
Constitution, notably the 14th and 15th
The national government has also passed laws
which attempt to increase voter turnout.
The National Voter Registration ActThis law
requires state governments to offer voter
registration opportunities to any eligible person
who applies for or renews a driver's license or
public assistance, requiring states to register
applicants that use a federal voter registration
form to apply, and prohibiting states from
removing registered voters from the voter rolls
unless certain criteria are met.
Help America Vote Act This law did three
things 1 It replaced punch card and
lever-based voting systems2 It created
the Election Assistance Commission to assist in
the administration of Federal elections3 It
established minimum election administration standa
The law was passed in the wake of the multiple
problems that occurred in the state of Florida
during the 2000 presidential election.
These two laws, respectively, help states expand
the right to vote and improve the administration
of the laws.
Aside from these, the precise nature of elections
to national and state office fall under the
reserved powers of the states.
If you remember from a previous discussion about
federalism, states also have the ability to pass
laws under its reserved powers to charter
cities. City charters also contain sections
that detail how its elections are to be carried
State election laws are contained in the state
election code. We will run through it in an
upcoming section, as well as the material covered
in area city codes.
For detail about these elections in area cities,
click on the code of ordinances for the
following - Alvin- Houston- Manvel- Pearland
Title 9, Chapter 143 of the Texas Election Code
describes how candidates can apply to run for
city office.Click here for it.
Since city elections are non-partisan, all
candidates run as independents.In partisan
elections, one has to apply to run for the party
nomination, the party takes care of getting the
candidates name on the general election ballot.
Title 9, Chapter 144 describes how a person can
becomes a candidate for a political subdivision
other than a county or city (this refers to
single purpose governments like our own community
college district).Click here for it.
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A quick point
The design of election laws is heavily
politicized. Whoever has the ability to
determine what election laws will be can help
determine who wins elections and in turn who
gets to control governing institutions.
Election laws are rarely neutral.A look through
the history of election laws shows that the
nature of the laws tends to be benefit the party
in power.
Whichever party controls state government
generally designs election laws in order to stay
in power.This is especially true in Texas.
In addition, there is a general sense that
Republican candidates are at an advantage when
voter turnout rates are low and Democratic
candidates are at an advantage when turnout rates
are high.
Obviously then, not everyone wants to increase
voter turnout. It doesnt benefit everyone.But
well get more into this when we discuss voter
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Well conclude with a look at a few key facts
about elections state and local elections.
1 - Texas commitment to Jacksonianism guarantees
a large number of elected positions with short
terms of office.
We covered this basic principle of Texas
government early this semester. The principle
of Jacksonian Democracy simply holds that the
electorate should be able to control governmental
offices through elections. As we have already
seen in Texas, a large number of constitutional
offices are elected, and terms tend to be
relatively short though they have become longer
in recent years.
This is opposed to the national government which
has a large number of indirect elections as well
as an appointed judiciary. This allows for
elite rule on the national level.
If you took GOVT 2305 already you would have read
through Federalist 10 which warned about have
too close a connection between government and the
general population. In it James Madison argued
that indirect elections are superior to direct
elections. They allow for public input into the
governing process, but insulate government from
the instability, uncertainty, and confusion
common in mass politics.
This argument was not accepted by the
Anti-Federalists. The Jacksonian movement was
based on the idea that the electorate should be
expanded and the general population could make
informed decisions about government.
The large number of elections in the Texas
Constitution was intended to make elite control
more difficult.
Weve already covered much of this in our look at
the three branches of government as well as local
governments. The number of positions that are
elected, rather than appointed, is pretty
large.These include
The Legislature 150 members of the Texas
House31 members of the Texas Senate
The Executive 6 state-wide executive
positions15 members of the State Board of
Education, each representing a single member
district.3 members of the Railroad Commission,
each position is state-wide.
The Judiciary 9 members of the Supreme
Court9 members of the Court of Criminal
Appeals80 Justices in the 14 Court of
Appeals456 District Court Judges elected to
each of the 456 District courts around the state.
This is in addition to a large number of local
positions, county, city and single purpose
governments.Ill pass on listing these
This places a tremendous burden on voters if they
are to make rational decisions about each of
these separate races.
Elections are held on all levels of government.
This point is related to the previous one.
Elections occur on the federal, state and local
level. Local elections include general (city and
county) and single purpose governments. As a
rule of thumb its best to think that any level of
government that can assess a tax needs to have an
elections so that the public can offer or deny
its consent to the tax.
This also means that there are many
elections.Which can make the electoral process
both confusing and time consuming. One is never
more than a few months away from the next
Some argue that this creates voter fatigue which
in turn lowers voter turnout. Texas as we
will see has some of the lowest voter turnout
rates in the nation.
The Long Ballot
This term is related to the points made above
about both Jacksonianism and the fact that
elections occur on all levels of government. As
a consequence of the vast number of elected
positions on all levels of government, the
ballots presented to voters tend to be very long.
Note that each county is responsible for putting
together the ballots for each election, and that
the ballots presented to each voter is a
reflection of which districts they live in.
Very few voters receive the exact same ballot
because they live in different electoral
Harris Countys ballot is usually among the
longest in the nation. This is because the
county is very large which means that a large
number of judicial candidates are on the ballot.
Click here for a story about the ballot in 2010.
And this does not include any referenda, or bond
elections that might be on the ballot.
A total of 252 candidates were running for 142
different positions throughout the county. No
Harris County voter has all 252 candidates and
142 election contests on his individual ballot,
but every one starts with 72 judicial contests.
The large number of names on the ballot can lead
voters to take a shortcut by voting straight
ticket. This means that you simply vote
Democrat or Republican. This option is not
always available for minor parties. This only
works for national, state and county elections
because they contain party labels. City elections
do not.
There are elections every year, often multiple
times in a give year. Elections in even
numbered years are for national and state
offices. Elections in odd numbered years are for
local offices.
As a rule of thumb, federal and state elections
are held on even numbered years. This includes
elections to county government, which makes sense
since they are connected to state
government.Municipal elections are held in odd
numbered years. This is generally true also for
special purpose governments as well.
Heres something to remember There is an
election on the first Tuesday in every November,
but some municipal elections are held on every
May of odd numbered years.
And there are special elections for bonds and
the occasional local initiative, referendum and
recall that can be held at any time.
Elections in the United States and Texas are
Winner Take All.This leads to the development
of two large political parties that contain
various factions within them.
This is a subtle, but very consequential point
Elections are structured in the United States
so that only one position is up for grabs in each
election. There can be only one winner in each
race, so people have a tendency then to cluster
their votes around dominant candidates.
Over time, this has led to a tendency to support
candidates offered by one of two major political
parties. It just so happens to be that these two
parties are the Democrats and Republicans, but
they can be any two. Prior to 1856, the two
party system included at different times - the
Whigs, Federalists and Democrat-Republicans.
Most other democracies around the world have a
parliamentary system which uses proportional
representation in order to fill their
legislatures. A political party is given a
percentage of the seats in the legislature that
corresponds to the percentage of the vote they
receive in the most recent election.
For example, 20 of the vote will result in 20
of the seats in the legislature. This is not
how elections work in the United States or Texas.
20 of the vote is never enough to win in a
winner take all system.
Over time, voters cluster support around major
party candidates and pull support from smaller
parties. Well walk through this logic soon when
we turn our attention to political parties in
For now its important to recognize that parties
in a two party system are very complex. In a
multi party system a party can form around one
dominant issue. In a two party system they
contain various factions that prioritize
different issues. They might even be in conflict
with each other.They compete among each other
to determine which policies dominate.
Neither of the dominant parties the Democrats
or Republicans are monolithic.They contain
groups that come into conflict with each other.
These will be discussed further in the section on
political parties.
Below we will briefly discuss primary elections,
and will discuss them further in a future
section.Primary elections often feature
conflict between the different factions in each
major parties.
This point helps explain why political parties
like the Libertarian and Green Parties tend to
get very few votes. A vote for one of their
candidates is a vote lost to one of the major
party candidates.
There are two types of elections General and
Elections to public office on the national and
state level are two stage. The first stage is
the primary election where candidates compete
with other members of their political party to be
the partys candidate in the general election,
which is the second stage.
The general election is what determines who holds
the office in question. We will have a separate
section on primary elections soon, but the
strategies necessary to win each are not exactly
the same.
In the primary election, the goal is to appeal to
your partys base supporters. In general
elections, the goal is to appeal to the broader
The contest in party primaries is between
competing factions within a political party.
The competition within political parties can be
as fierce or even more so than that between
the major parties. The victors in primary
elections can determine what the parties stand
We will look at this a bit more when we look at
parties in the state, but for now think of
competition in primary elections like this
In Texas, the Republican Party is often split
between business interests that are moderate on
social issues (like abortion, same sex marriage,
the legalization of marijuana and gambling) and
religious conservatives that tend to take a
harder line against them.The battle tends to be
between those forces that want the Republican
Party to emphasize personal liberty and business
issues and those that want it to promote
traditional values and focus on social issues.
The Democratic Party generally represents the
interests of minority groups, laborers, and
liberals which we can define as those who want
to prioritize egalitarian policies and generally
see the government as the most effective
institution to implement these policies. The
specific interest and needs of these groups can
lead to conflict however, especially when it
comes to the separate needs of African-Americans,
Latinos, and working class Anglos.
Primary elections pit these forces against each
A plurality necessary to win general elections.
This means that a candidate has to have more
votes than anyone else in order to win. A
majority necessary to win primary elections. This
means that a candidate has to have more than 50
of the vote in order to win.
If there is no majority in the primary election,
a run-off is held between the top two winners.
No run-off is necessary in a general election.
Also keep in mind that primary elections are run
by the political parties while general elections
are run by the government. But each are run
according to rules established by the state of
Texas and found in the Texas Election Code. More
on that soon enough.
In states like Texas with histories of one party
dominance, the real competition is often in the
primary elections of the dominant party. This
was the case almost across the board for all
races when the Democratic Party dominated the
state, and is true currently for the Republican
Party in statewide races.
Primary elections are often more competitive than
general elections. The primary winner is often
the winner of the general election.
As with elections in general, each state
determines for itself how to structure primary
elections, including determining who gets to vote
in them. Well look at this more closely in the
section on primary elections, but there are two
general types.
Closed primaries where people have to register as
a party members ahead of time in order to vote in
it, and open primaries that allow anyone to vote
in either party primary. Texas has a modified
open primary. Voters can vote in either party
primary, but are then restricted to only
participate in that partys activities during
that electoral cycle.
More detail to follow in the section on primary
Some elections in the state are partisan and some
are non-partisan.
In some elections, a candidates party
identification is listed on the ballot. The voter
then knows if the candidate is a Democrat or a
Republican or a member of a smaller political
These tend to be only for elections to national
and state including county - offices.Elections
for municipal and single purpose governments
tend to be non-partisan.
Its argued that partisan elections allow for
greater coordination of campaigns for office, and
they can also lessen the work necessary for
voters to determine who to support. All that is
necessary is for the voter to identify with one
of the parties in order to determine who they
should support.
Partisanship can increase contentiousness in
governing institutions however, and for that
reason its argued that races for local positions
where the issues at stake are pragmatic, as in
how best to run a city its best to keep
partisan politics out of city government, as well
as special districts such as independent school
That said astute participants will know the
partisan affiliations of candidates for elective
office. It just wont be listed on the ballot.
The use of non-partisan elections for local races
was one of the many progressive electoral reforms
of the early 20th century.
Initiative,Referendum, and RecallElections
Some states not including Texas allow for
greater citizen input in the electoral process,
including the ability to put items on the ballot,
or directly voting for legislation. Initiative,
referendum, and recallelections are three ways
to increase citizen input.
These are based on the idea thatthe average
citizen should have more control over his
These were more of the progressive reforms that
were mentioned before.Heres a description of
InitiativeThese elections allow eligible voters
to place items on the ballot directly if they are
able to get a sufficient number of signatures on
a petition. Sometimes this can require a large
number of signatures, which means that these
initiatives can require a great deal of
organization and money. Critics claim this
defeats the purpose of initiative elections and
simply allows those who can afford it the
opportunity to bypass the legislature to seek
their objectives.
For an example of how they work, heres a
description of Californias initiative process,
and here are Californias 2010 ballot propositions
California is often used as an example of what is
good and bad about the initiative process. While
it allows for popular input, the types of
policies passed might prove problematic and
might contradict others passed in different
California voters have approved both tax cuts and
spending increases through initiative elections
which held lead to budget crises.
A major criticism of the initiative process is
that only wealthy interests can afford to
organize the petition drives necessary to get
items on the ballot. This means that the
initiatives may not really represent the
interests of the general population. They just
might be convenient was for wealthy interest to
get around the legislature.
ReferendumCertain types of laws do not take
effect unless they are approved by a public vote.
Tax increase and bond initiatives for example.
Recall ElectionsThe voters, by getting enough
signatures on a petition, can remove an incumbent
from office. The same criticism against
initiative elections applies here as well.
While Texas adopted some of the proposals made by
the Progressive Movement, it did not adopt these.
Texas is not a referendum/initiative state.
Here is an interest group that would like to
change that. Heres some history on past
attempts. The only vote Texas voters can cast is
for or against the ratification of amendments to
the Texas Constitution.
This isnt completely true. The voters of Texas
have to ratify amendments to the Texas
Constitution. This is a type of referendum. And
the Texas Constitution explicitly states that an
income tax can only be adopted if approved by the
voters of the state in referendum.
Cities in Texas do allow for these elections.
They have occurred in most area cities in the
recent past.
Thats enough.
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