Now that the Texas Primary is, at long last, over and done, and the results are not horrible, let's look at some really scary numbers. At least, they're scary if you look at participation by voters as an indicator of a healthy democracy. I hate to break the news to you, but...our democracy is on life support at best—or long dead or never existed, depending on whom you ask.
The percentages below are percentages of all registered voters in Harris County and Texas, not of the respective parties. The number of registered voters in Harris County increased by nearly 34,000 between Super Tuesday and the 24 May runoff, from 2,081,781 to 2,115,482.
Harris County Democratic Primary Turnout, 1 March: 227,280 = 10.92%
So What's So Scary?
I don't see any problem with the turnout numbers for Super Tuesday. Only about half of the registered voters in the county, state, and nation strongly identify with one of the major parties. About half of the electorate turns out for the general election, so half of that half for the primary is all we might reasonably expect. Actually, 30% of the total population statewide is better than expected.
Just after Super Tuesday, a lot of Democrats among my acquaintances were wringing their Facebook-status hands over the difference between Republican and Democratic turnout: a 3-2 ratio in the county, 2-1 statewide. Again, not a problem, although for Sanders supporters a disappointment: It's easy to conclude, based on a hunch, that all the enthusiasm for Senator Sanders did not translate into actual votes. Apparently, all those Millennials forgot to get off Facebook and get their asses to the polls. Sanders received only 63,413 votes in Harris County, good for 28.48%; he did slightly better across Texas, garnering about a third of the Democratic Primary vote.
No, the scariest figures are for the runoffs, as well as the differences between Primary and Runoff participation. Fewer than 4% of voters countywide and statewide gave half a shit about voting if there wasn't a presidential race involved.
It's not as if there were portions of the state in which the people had nothing to vote for. Both major parties had runoffs for the Railroad Commission seat. (Would somebody in the Legislature please file a bill for 2017 to change the name of the Railroad Commission? A change is looooong overdue.)
Why is it scary that more than 80% of primary voters skipped the runoff?
Let us narrow the focus on State House District 27 in Fort Bend County. Incumbent Ron Reynolds, Democrat, has been convicted and sentenced for "ambulance chasing." Remember that in Texas our legislators work part-time for only a per diem, so when he is not busy legislating five months out of 24, Reynolds is a practicing attorney, albeit apparently ethically challenged. Despite the verdict, now under appeal, he received just under 50% in the Primary, forcing a runoff with challenger Angelique Bartholomew, and then he narrowly won the runoff.
Only about 4% of the registered voters in District 27 showed up for the runoff. Missouri City Democrats are well and truly stuck with him now.
I have no idea whether Reynolds did what he stands accused of, or whether, as he contends, it is all political persecution. The icky part of this whole deal is that the Democrats have managed to nominate a convict to represent them, which makes it easier for Republican nominee Ken Bryant to take the seat just by reminding voters at every opportunity that his opponent is facing jail time for crooked lawyering.
A more awake electorate might have shown up in greater numbers to vote against Reynolds. But the electorate is not only not awake, but wouldn't know what's what even if it woke up. Just ask 100 randomly selected adults who there state rep is, what the state House of Representatives does, when they do it, and how many of them there are; see how many of them can answer three of those four questions correctly.
Now consider the Republican race for State Board of Education, District 9. As an open seat, it was the only contested race on the Republican side; on Super Tuesday, 221,521 voters narrowed it down to Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis. When word got round of Bruner's odd pronouncements and complete disconnection from reality, enough voters showed up to defeat her by a 3-2 margin.
Even in deeply conservative East Texas, Bruner's "Obama was a gay prostitute to pay for his drugs" rhetoric didn't fly. Turnout for that runoff was 62,262. That's about 30% of the Super Tuesday tally, whereas 15% was more typical.
In the case of Reynolds, the turnout figures were 15,986 in the Primary, 3,886 (just less than one-fourth) in the runoff. Yes, Reynolds won that runoff, but with only 52.9% of the vote. Better turnout might have swung the race for Bartholomew; she lost by a mere 226 votes.
It's not that the three or four percent who vote in these runoffs are average voters either. Primary voters are supposedly more committed to party and process than average folk. That goes double for primary runoff voters: real party insiders, their friends, and a handful of retirees with nothing better to do. As PDiddie said yesterday on Brains and Eggs:
Winning their elections but still losers in life include Jarvis Johnson (as predicted), Ron Reynolds (as predicted) and Judge Elaine Palmer and JP Hilary (ex-wife of former City Controller Ron) Green. You had better options, voters, but the real blame goes to the 97% or so who couldn't be afflicted to participate in this runoff. When you allow cronies, flacks, and insiders to pick your representatives, you get governed by your inferiors.
Blogging Sporadically since 2014
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