Tag Archives: voter turnout

Texas in the presidential mix … who knew?

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

It’s so nice to see the nation talking positively about Texas, which — to be candid — isn’t usually the case in this modern world.

We usually find ourselves on the front pages when there’s a mass shooting at a church, shopping mall or a school; or when the state’s Republican Party hierarchy doesn’t something stupid.

These days, Texas is the talk of the nation. Why? Because we are setting the early-voting pace that other states are trying to match.

I saw a report tonight that said Texans have cast nearly 86 percent of all the ballots we cast in the 2016 election. We still have two days to go before the end of early voting; plus, we have Election Day balloting.

What does this mean? It could mean that Texas will be among the leaders in voter turnout when we count all the presidential election ballots rather than among the worst-performing states.

This is good news at any level I can imagine.

I said for years when I was writing opinion pieces for newspapers in Amarillo and Beaumont that one of the keys to good government must be vast voter participation. I used to caution residents of both communities about the danger of letting others make key political decisions for them; they might not share your views, I would say.

It looks for all the world that in Texas, as well as in many states, that voters are taking these get-out-the-vote pleas quite seriously.

It fills me with pride to hear the media talk about Texas’s pace-setting early vote totals in tones that suggest that other states should emulate what we are doing here.

Big voter roll in Texas? Will they turn out?

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I understand Texas set a record for registered voters, with 17 million Texans now eligible to vote in the 2020 election.

Good deal, yes? Of course it is!

Except for this little factoid: Texas historically has been one of the worst-performing states in the Union with respect to voter participation.

Our state turnout generally registers below the national average, which in itself isn’t great. Something like 60 percent of Americans voted for president in 2016. The Texas turnout was less than 50 percent.

We are getting a major push most from Democrats to “vote!” They want more of us to take part to defeat Donald Trump, boot him out of the White House and end this ridiculous experiment of electing an ostensible non-politician to the nation’s highest political office.

It’s good to know we have managed to register a lot of folks to vote for president this year and beyond. That’s only part of the story.

The more important chapter will be written if all 17 million of us turn out to vote. That won’t happen, but it would be gratifying to see us get somewhere close to that mark.

More, not fewer, voters make democracy work

One of the obligatory editorials I would write back when I was a working stiff involved seeking to get voters to get off their duffs and do their duty as citizens of this great country.

Their duty involved voting. One of the arguments I sought to make at three newspapers where I wrote these opinion pieces was a straightforward one: More voters, not fewer of them, create a stronger democratic system.

Thus, when I hear arguments from mostly Republican officials who want to suppress voter participation, why, it just infuriates me to no end.

GOP officials in Texas and elsewhere are flinging the red herring about “rampant voter fraud” by opposing mail-in voting. What they really intend to do is to prevent voters from casting ballots particularly in this frightening moment … with the world reeling from the global coronavirus pandemic.

This bit of idiocy even came from the nation’s No. 1 Republican, Donald “Imbecile in Chief” Trump, who said mail-in voting — in addition to promoting voter fraud — would doom Republicans from getting elected. Keep that in mind. I’ll get back to that.

A federal judge recently ruled that Texans who fear coming down with the COVID-19 virus by voting in person on Election Day are free to cast their ballots by mail; the U.S. Fifth Circuit of Appeals, though, put the brakes on the judge’s ruling. So we’re now back to Square One.

Republicans in Texans, led by Attorney General Ken Paxton, appear more frightened at the prospect of more voters taking part in an all-mail election. Paxton hides behind the bogus notion of “widespread voter fraud.” The five states that conduct their elections by mail-in voting report no evidence of rampant fraudulent voting. Is there some voter fraud? Sure. There also is fraudulent voting when citizens cast their ballots on Election Day — in polling booths.

Back to my fundamental point. My argument about more voters making for a stronger democratic system than fewer of them holds up now as it has all along.

Paltry voter turnouts undeniably hand more power to fewer people. They deny consensus decisions. They result in voters ceding the power granted to them in the U.S. Constitution to someone who might feel differently about issues and candidates.

Thus, if we are facing an ongoing global pandemic, I want there to be a mail-in option to ensure greater voter turnout. I want a stronger, not a weaker, democratic system.

Low turnout: It’s infectious and it needs to end

I guess Dallas municipal and school board voters are infected with the same disease that has plagued those in many other communities throughout the state. They don’t turn out to vote.

In today’s Dallas Morning News, columnist Robert Wilonsky notes the disinterest in the 2019 municipal election in south Dallas. “Despair is a hell of a disease,” he quotes a south Dallas resident in a column about the growth explosion that is underway in north Dallas regions. “It’s prevailing here. It doesn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be. It’s just here. And it’s in the way.”

Indeed. It’s in the way of progress.

I now will cast my gaze northwest from Dallas to Amarillo, another community about which I’ve commented frequently relating to its usually dismal municipal and school board election turnout.

Hey, guess what. That might change this weekend. What is the driver? It might be the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees election, where two incumbents from an embattled school board are standing for re-election.

AISD has gone through a tumultuous time starting with the resignation of Kori Clements as head coach of the Amarillo High School Sandies girls volleyball team. The school board has gotten an earful from constituents — and from this blog — about how it conducted itself prior to and in the wake of Clements’ resignation.

Clements said the school board and the administration didn’t back her while she fended off alleged interference from a parent who was upset over the playing time being given to her daughters.

Two incumbents are running for re-election. This election has the potential of producing a judgment from voters about how the board has handed this matter. When there’s controversy, I’ve noted over many years, there’s bound to be ramped-up voter interest.

I hope that’s the case in Amarillo.

Will it spill over to the City Council election that also occurs on Saturday? One can hope that the city and the school system will decided its local leadership with far more than a single-digit turnout, which too often is the case.

I long have noted that local elections are most meaningful for voters. They mean more in terms of decisions that affect voters directly than any other electoral level.

I am sorry to read about Dallas enduring the moribund turnouts that affect communities in Texas. I will continue to argue for greater turnout at this level of government.

Moreover, I will hold out some hope that Amarillo might shake itself loose from this desultory trend in just a few days.

Hey, if it takes some voter anger to awaken the “bosses,” the folks who pay the bills, then so be it.

Beto on Texas vote turnout: It’s a conspiracy?

Readers of this blog know that I admire Beto O’Rourke, the former West Texas congressman who nearly got elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018.

However, I believe the young man is mistaken when he offers this reason — as published in this Twitter message — for the historically low voter turnout in Texas. He blames it on some sort of conspiracy by “those in power.”

Hmm. Here’s my take on it.

I believe Texans at times suffer from a case of “voter fatigue.” It’s also a bit of a cultural phenomenon that afflicts suppressed voter turnout here. The lowest percentage of turnouts occur in states that formerly comprised the Old Confederacy. Does that mean we care less about the health of our form of government that citizens who live in high-turnout states such as Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington? No, it doesn’t mean that all.

Texas’ Constitution establishes a lot of electoral offices. We vote for our entire slate of statewide constitutional offices every four years; those elections occur during those “midterm” years. We vote for municipal and school district offices every odd-numbered year. If we live in a community college district, we get to vote on boards of regents, too!

O’Rourke blames this lack of turnout on the ability of “those in power” to suppress voter participation. I believe that is an overly cynical view.

I remain a voting traditionalist. I prefer to vote on Election Day when I’ll be at home. I am no fan of vote by mail, which some states require; it’s been said that the high turnout in Oregon and Washington is a direct result of those states’ mail-voting provisions.

I would like to see Election Day turned into a national holiday. I would like to see state, local and federal governments conduct intensive public-service campaigns to encourage voter turnout.

As a voting junkie, I enjoy the prospect of standing in line at my polling place and waiting my turn to exercise my constitutional right of citizenship.

I just cannot buy into Beto’s belief that the lack of turnout in Texas is the result of some dark conspiracy.

What now? Well, Beto might run for president in 2020. Maybe he can channel the enthusiasm he generated in his near-miss loss for the U.S. Senate in Texas into a national wave. That would dispel any conspiratorial notion, correct?

Turnout spikes dramatically; democracy wins!

The official totals have yet to be tabulated, but the turnout in this week’s midterm election suggests that democracy has emerged as the big winner.

I won’t discuss the Democrats’ net gain to grab control of the U.S. House of Representatives, or the Republicans’ maintaining their control of the U.S. Senate, or the results of the various governors’ races around the country.

More than 100 million Americans cast ballots for all 435 House races and for one-third of the 100-member Senate. The number is increasing as ballots continue to be counted in places like Arizona, Florida and Georgia.

This is a good deal, man! It’s so good that my faith in our representative democratic form of government is being restored a little at a time.

Texas, where I live, long has been considered an abysmal example of voter apathy. Our turnouts for presidential and off-year elections generally has been among the worst in the nation. This year we had more than 8 million votes cast for races up and down the political food chain. The number of ballots counted for the midterm rivaled the number cast in the 2016 presidential election.

I long have argued that our system of government works better when more of us — not fewer of us — get involved. The most basic, the simplest form of political involvement starts at the polling place.

Arguably the height of political frustration occurs when we let our neighbors make critical decisions for us. Our neighbors might agree with us, or they might disagree with us. That’s a gamble I am unwilling to take.

I am glad to presume that in this election cycle, more Americans have reached the same conclusion, that they aren’t willing to leave these decisions to someone else.

Our votes matter a lot … always!

It looks as though there well might be a record voter turnout for a midterm election in Texas, based on the early vote totals being recorded across the state.

Does that diminish the individual value of Texans’ vote? Not in the least.

We all know about tiny jurisdictions where races for public office — say, school board or city council — are decided by a vote or two. A rural Texas community can elect governing councils from a total of perhaps 20 or 30 votes. You know your vote counts in that context.

Let’s broaden our horizon, shall we? Texas is going to take part on Nov. 6 in electing all 36 members of the House of Representatives and one of two members of the U.S. Senate. A number of those races are bound to be close, too close to call, within the margin of polling error. We’ll also have a number of state offices to decide.

The number of total votes cast in those races figures to be huge. That doesn’t diminish the value of our votes, yours and mine.

Then we have the county races and state legislative contests that voters will decide. Our votes count there, too.

Will there be runaways? Sure. The way I look at it, even if you cast your ballot for the candidate who loses an election by a huge margin, you still get to have your voice heard. To my way of thinking, that vote gives you an extra measure of credibility if you choose to gripe publicly about how the winner of that race is doing his or her job on your behalf.

The Texas Tribune reports that after five days of early voting, 2.14 million Texans have cast ballots. We have until the end of this week to vote early. Don’t expect the numbers to double the total of early votes, but we’re going to finish the early-vote period with a tremendous spike from the 2014 midterm election.

Do not think for an instant that the huge number diminishes the value of your individual ballot. Even statewide contests in a state as large as Texas can be decided by a single vote.

We’re sitting out these important decisions

What do you know about that? I have known for a long time that Amarillo, Texas, where I used to live wasn’t the only city that produced pitiful municipal voter turnouts.

I have bitched about it for a couple of decades, trying — using my forum as editorial page editor of the local newspaper — to reverse that trend. It fell on blind eyes.

Hey, it could get worse. Amarillo could be as non-involved in this most important civic act as Dallas, just down the highway from where my wife and I now reside.

An analysis in the Dallas Morning News tells me that Dallas delivers the worst municipal voter turnout among the nation’s largest cities. How do Dallas residents do? Six percent of them vote on average for election of the mayor and city council members. Six percent!

I’ll take some pride in revealing that my hometown, Portland, Ore., votes on average at a 59 percent clip in municipal elections.

Dang, man! Why can’t we get more of us to the polls at these local elections, the elections that determine who runs local government, the level of government that has the most direct impact on our lives?

It’s not as though Texas doesn’t do what it can to make it easy for us to vote. We can vote early. The state opens up many venues for Texans to cast their ballots early. Still, I have laughed virtually out loud over many years when I hear local election officials brag about the large number of early ballots being cast … as if that means a greater voter turnout. It usually means nothing of the sort. It only means that more people are voting early, period.

As Michael Lindenberger writes in the Dallas Morning News:

Some studies have even suggested that voting makes citizens healthier, and not just because they can influence health policy. Voting itself, as proof of civic engagement, boosts one’s health, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin.

More than that, even, a city that relies on only a tiny fraction of its residents to vote leaves our leaders operating on such pencil-thin support it’s a wonder they are able to be effective at all. 

Take Mayor Mike Rawlings. He was elected for his second term in 2015 on a huge margin, but with just a bit over 30,000 votes. That’s in America’s ninth-largest city, anchor to the fourth-largest urban area in the nation.

That’s ridiculous. A second term for 30,000 votes and change? What happened to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters?

This guy is speaking my language. It’s ridiculous, indeed!

I have tried to point out over many years that sitting out these important local elections leaves important public policy decisions up to the guy next door, or the dude down the street, someone who might — or might not — share your view of how your community should be governed.

Time to change this dismal voter participation

I applaud the Morning News for bringing this issue to the fore.

Will it matter? Will it bring more voters to the polls next spring when we elect our municipal officials in Texas? Probably not, but man, it needs to be said over and over again.

More voters means better government … always!

Barack H. Obama gave a speech today that touched on a subject I have tried to make over many years while I worked as a print journalist in Amarillo and Beaumont, Texas and back in my home state of Oregon.

I won’t presume to believe the 44th president of the United States got the idea directly from me. Nevertheless, I’ll take a bit of ownership of the idea he put forward.

He implored young people in his audience to “vote,” to take part in the political process if only just be ensuring that they cast their ballots. “Don’t think your vote doesn’t matter,” Obama said, noting that he he was able to win two presidential elections by narrowly carrying many voting precincts or congressional districts across the land.

I’m going to steer away from the partisan nature of what the former president said, concentrating instead on the bigger picture.

For decades I sought to boost voter turnout by imploring voters to follow this simple creed: Don’t let your neighbor — who might or not agree with your political leanings — decide who should represent you in government. I ran out of ways to say the same thing. Yes, I repeated myself. I’m likely doing so here … right now!

Texas remains one of the nation’s most miserable examples of representative democracy. Our voter turnout at every level — from the presidential level on down — habitually ranks at or near the bottom of all 50 states. Think of that: Texans protect the right to vote on many issues and for many candidates; yet when given the chance to vote, too many of us stay home.

The former president spoke a tremendous truth today to those students in Illinois. They need to take part. They need to become the solution to what they believe is wrong with our political system today. The simplest way to do so, in the former president’s words, is to exercise their right to vote. Cast a ballot, man!

So, thank you, Mr. President, for elevating my message to the national stage.

Why not ‘celebrate’ Election Day?

This isn’t an original thought but I am going to pitch it here with vigor. Election Day should be an event Americans should commemorate, indeed even celebrate.

Thus, I am leaning heavily toward proposing a national holiday for the day we go to the polls to elect the leader of our government. I make this pitch partly out of frustration as well.

I spent a lot of years as a journalist trying to boost voter turnout on Election Day. It was an exercise in futility. I ran out of ways to say the same thing. We cheered when turnout at the national level exceeded, say, 55 percent when we chose our president. I consider that to be a disgraceful turnout. Fifty-five percent turnout among all Americans who are eligible to vote? That means more than 40 percent of those Americans don’t bother to cast their ballot.

Here’s my thought: Make Election Day every two years a national holiday. I include the midterm congressional election as deserving of this extra attention.

Why don’t people vote? I guess it’s for a variety of reasons. Frustration with the choices. A feeling that their vote doesn’t matter. Not enough time.

Ah, about that last item. The time element can be fixed by declaring a national holiday. Give working Americans the day off from work, the way we do for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day.

We can remove one key barrier from Americans who might want to vote, but who say they don’t have the time, that their bosses won’t allow them to take a few moments to go cast their ballots.

I understand fully that we cannot give everyone a day off from work on Election Day. Medical personnel, police officers, firefighters, public utility workers all need to be on the job.

I much prefer the national holiday idea to other efforts to boost turnout, such as mail-in voting. I have noted many times already that I like the ritual associated with going to the polls, of waiting in line, of kibitzing with fellow voters. Mail-only voting has boosted turnout in many states — such as my home state of Oregon. I stand by my preference, though, to cast my ballot in a polling place.

I live in state, Texas, with a shamefully pitiful voting turnout. We tend to vote on everything here, so there might be some voter fatigue that suppresses turnout. I don’t know how to deal with that.

However, I want there to be a national push — for the midterm election and for the presidential election — to give this process the level of veneration it deserves.

Declaring Election Day to be a national holiday might do the trick.