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May 27, 2014 4:46 PM Texas Votes Again, and Again

By Jonathan Bernstein

Another Election Day in Texas. Today is the runoff primary for the 2014 general election. Most of the excitement is on the Republican side, with bitter races for lieutenant governor and attorney general. Democrats are trying not to make fools of themselves by nominating for U.S. Senate a follower of Lyndon LaRouche whose campaign platform includes impeaching President Barack Obama. They also have to decide who would make a worse candidate for commissioner of agriculture: a guy who refuses to campaign because of some misguided principle, or Kinky Friedman.

I received a good personal lesson today about the difficulty of U.S. elections, because one of the choices stumped me. Usually part of my family’s division of labor is that my wife, who knows local politics better than I do, tells me who to vote for on those local races. She missed one, and I didn’t remember what we had done in the original primary seven weeks ago. So on “District Judge, 45th Judicial District” I took a wild guess. I blame the system. Neither candidate had any visible campaign; I’m fairly certain the contest got no coverage in the local newspaper.

It’s ridiculous to vote for judges, anyway. Unless you happen to know one of the candidates, the best you can do is to try to figure out party cues (difficult in a primary election!). The multiplication of offices also makes it impossible for the media. The San Antonio Express-News ran pretty good stories on the statewide primaries, but the paper didn’t have space for all the judges. There were 17 different runoff races on today’s ballot for one party or the other somewhere in Bexar County, and that’s only one of the counties the newspaper covers.

I guessed on that one, but at least I voted. The polling place was deserted, and the little old ladies working the election said it had been quiet all day. No baked goods, though, in case anyone is wondering.

Today is the third Election Day in my precinct this year, and the sixth of the two- and four-year cycles. Counting that judicial guess, I marked the ballot six times today, which means we’ve had a total of 72 votes cast for those cycles so far. This should do it for a while. The special election for city council a few weeks ago didn’t need a runoff. And while we’re losing a mayor in San Antonio, at least pending Senate confirmation, the (somewhat bizarre) procedure for filling a vacancy involves the city council selecting one of its own. Unless it picks my own brand-new councilman, that won’t produce another election in my precinct. Still, that’s a lot of voting. I’m all for democracy and elections, and I think it’s fine that we are called on to vote far more often than citizens in most democracies — but the U.S. votes too often, and for too many things.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

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