They vote, too

As usual, I administered the primary election in my precinct earlier this week.  There were two face-palm moments.  First, there were the usual handful of voters who took the news that they would have to choose between the Democratic primary and the Republican primary as if it were an immobilizing jolt from a taser.  After meeting with a frequently hostile response to greeting each voter with the opening question "Republican or Democrat?" we tried asking them whether they preferred to cast a Republican ballot or a Democrat ballot.  "I'm not really affiliated with any party," many responded.  "That's OK," I would reply.  "Texas doesn't have closed party registration, anyway.  It's no one's business but your own what party, if any, you identify with.  But there are two separate elections today, and you can vote in only one of them."  For most people, this was enough.  A few took the opportunity to examine the two sample ballots and make the decision, apparently for the first time, which one they were most interested in.  This puzzles me, because I'd have guessed that the only people who bother to vote in primaries are fairly plugged into the process.  What's more, there's very little point in voting in a Democratic primary in Texas, especially in a county where no candidate for a local office has a snowball's chance of winning unless he prevails in the Republican primary; once that's over, he's likely to be running unopposed in the general election.

One guy couldn't assimilate the news.  He was furious.  "I don't vote for the party, I vote for the man," he protested.  Gosh, then a primary is the place for you, buddy, because party affiliation won't help you at all in deciding which candidate you want to represent a particular party in the general election come November.  All you can possibly do is vote for the individual.  Not good enough.  How dare we infringe his right to pick and choose among the races, switching back and forth between the ballots?

Don't get me wrong.  A very good case can be made for open, non-partisan primaries and the breaking of the stranglehold of the two dominant parties.  It just can't be made very effectively on election day.  No matter how much sympathy I might have for his underlying political point, I couldn't give him two ballots to vote on Tuesday.  "I just won't vote, then!" he shouted, and stomped out.  Anyone would think the whole issue was taking him totally by surprise.  And yet this was no youngster but a man in his 60s, who I happen to know owns his own business.

(This flip-side of this confusion is expressed by at least one or two voters in every primary over why they can't just vote a straight party ticket, which is so much more convenient.  But they're rarely angry about it, and generally can be brought quickly to understand why that won't work in a party primary.)

The second moment came when we were trying to reconcile the number of people who had signed in to vote with the number of unused ballots remaining when the polls closed.  This being a primary, I was only one of two judges for the day.  My fellow judge had been issued only 25 ballots for the whole day, because this is a small precinct in a county with very few blue voters.  Our ballot-scanning machine report indicated that 6 Democratic ballots had been cast, but only 18 unused ballots could be found.  The judge came up with the idea that she'd been issued ballots with serial numbers from XX251 through XX275, which by her reckoning meant she'd started with only 24 ballots.  I posited that ballot numbers 251 through 275 made for 25 ballots.  She thought I was nuts:  275 minus 251 clearly is 24.  "Suppose you had ballots numbered 1 through 10," I suggested.  "Would that be 10 ballots or 9?  You've got to subtract the two numbers, then add one.  Otherwise you'll be leaving out one of the other of the endpoints."  She still thought I was nuts.  But hey, I don't have to sign her paperwork.


Grim said...

It's difficult to understand the politician's contempt for the American voter until you encounter some.

E Hines said...

...until you encounter some.

Voters or politicians?

Eric Hines

Cass said...

It's difficult to understand the politician's contempt for the American voter until you encounter some.


RonF said...

I hold that how a given party picks the candidate they want to have run the general election is their own business and that the public should not have to pay for the mechanism by which it does so.

Texan99 said...

In this county, in the past at least, the party paid for the supplies and the wages for the election workers. I understand that the county will be paying the workers for this election, though it's the first I've heard of this change. As far as I know, the county doesn't make the parties pay rent for using the voting machines in primaries, but I don't see why they shouldn't. The space for the polling space is donated without charge.