In case you haven’t heard, there’s an election next month. I don’t know how you could miss it since we are being bombarded with television and radio ads, mailers, emails, and now even unsolicited text messages.
What you may not know, is that there’s probably a lot more on your ballot than what those folks in the ads are talking about. Here in Texas, where judges are elected, you may have multiple races for courts of law, county commissioners, school board trustees, and tax-payer funded bond proposals.
The Harris County (Houston-area) ballot is, I’m told, the longest in the nation. In preparation for voting, I printed my sample ballot for review, and I count a total of 93, that’s ninety-three, different contests.
I take my responsibilities as a U.S. citizen seriously, and always try to learn as much as I can before heading to the polls. But how does one really dig down into the details of 93 different contests?
One method is to consult some of the many available voter guides. Of course, such guides are inherently biased, and sometimes oriented to a single issue. Even if the provider claims to be neutral and non-partisan, there will be discernible bias. A smart voter must make sure he/she understands what each group values in candidates.
A well-meaning and intelligent friend suggests that rather than rely on voter guides or “straight ticket” votes, each citizen should do his or her own research.
Which brings me back to that Harris County ballot; dispersed among the 93 contests are some 210 candidates. How on Earth does the average citizen, perhaps one with a full-time job and a family, have time to research 210 different candidates?
While I’m not as politically involved as I have been in the past, I think I’m more informed than average, and I find this ballot daunting. I attended a few meet-and-greet events earlier this year, but candidates far outnumbered non-candidates in attendance, and each candidate only had 2 minutes to speak.
Even worse may be what’s not on this ballot; there are numerous other boards consisting of both elected and appointed officials that have jurisdiction over myself, my family, and my property. These boards are not necessarily required to hold elections at the biennial general election. I’ve spent hours trying to track down even the most basic information about the governance structure of the ten different entities taxing my home with very little success.
We’ve come a long way since Tocqueville praised the structures of local government as a key component of representative democracy. Unlike citizens in the early 19th century, I not only do not know and interact with my locally elected officials; sometimes I don’t even know they exist, much less who they are, and what they do.
But back to that Harris County ballot with 93 contests and 210 candidates. What’s a citizen to do?
While I’m not a fan of unquestioning party loyalty, one of the few things I can do is consider party-affiliation. In my case, I agree with much of the Republican and little of the Democrat Party platform. I’m not naïve enough to think every nominal Republican or Democrat adheres to party platform, but it is one tool for gaining insight. I do look at voter guides from groups with which I largely agree, and sometimes those with which I do not.
There’s an election next month. Your ballot may be a mess, and it may take some time and effort to understand it. But citizen participation is what makes our system work. It’s not perfect, but pretty good overall. Of course, always remember that government is ultimately comprised of flawed human beings, not angels. Keep your perspective and reserve your real faith for a perfect and holy God.
There’s an election next month. Be informed; be a voter.
Here are some of the voter guides/scorecards I use:
Texas Right to Life and Texas Alliance for Life. (These two are sometimes at odds, especially in primaries, so you really have to consider the specific tools used to determine endorsements. When I step back to consider broader fiscal, judicial, educational, and constitutional liberty issues, I’m usually more in agreement with TRL, but not always.)
Here in Harris County, there are 75 contests for various courts, including everything from the Texas Supreme Court down to the Justice of the Peace. Not an endorsement guide per se, the Houston Judicial Preference Poll is very interesting this year. Although a left-leaning group of attorneys, they have mostly preferred the GOP judges. I’m told the GOP judges are far more knowledgeable, efficient, and fair.
There’s quite a few competing “Conservative” groups in Harris County that often disagree in primary endorsements, but are united in the general elections. Harris County Conservative Coalition has a guide for school district and Lone Star College races.
(Image: Alexis de Tocqueville by Théodore Chassériau.)