Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The longest ballot in history?

That's what they keep saying.

If it seems like that Harris County ballot you got in the mail is long, it is. Veteran election watchers say it is the longest they can recall.  The ballot is so long that it requires 61 cents to mail in your vote. Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerry Birnberg joked, "We're real close to a poll tax here."

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman recently gave a vivid demonstration of the daunting list voters face Nov. 2 by unfolding a ballot that extended to nearly her height.

Voters are "overwhelmed," said the Houston-area League of Women Voters president, Nancy Parra. The League's executive director, Christina Gorczynski, said the office never has received so many calls. A fire that destroyed nearly all of the county's voting machines has people clamoring for information about how to vote early, she said.

Keep in mind that if you vote early (EV starts next Monday the 18th and runs through Oct. 29), you can only vote electronically on a borrowed e-Slate. If you vote on Election Day you can ask for a paper ballot.

For the first time in several elections, I'll be voting on Election Day.

University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray said this year's ballot is the longest he has seen in the 44 years he has lived in Harris County and speculates that it may be the longest one in the nation this year.

"It's almost certain it's the longest ballot in the history in the state because we're by far the biggest county," Murray said.

No Harris County voter has all 252 candidates and 142 election contests on his individual ballot, but every one starts with 72 judicial contests.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill said the party's response to the lengthy ballot is simply to promote straight-ticket voting. Woodfill said the phone calls, door hangers, radio spots and mailers all will emphasize voting for all Republicans with one sweeping vote. In the 2008 presidential elections, 62 percent of Harris County voters cast straight-ticket ballots.

LOL, Jared. Democrats out-voted the GOP in straight ticket votes in both 2006 and 2008, and I don't believe the Tea Party likes some of the Republicans on your ballot. Besides that there are many, many Republicans splitting their ticket starting with the governor's race.

Kaufman notes that the Libertarian Party has fielded dozens of candidates in congressional and state races, lengthening the ballot by a few names on any individual ballot.

The Libertarians will suck away a minimum of 5% of the usual GOP tally, probably more like 7 or 8.  It's really a shame Kathie Glass isn't drawing off more of Goodhair's base; she's plenty kooky enough for the Teas and the Medinaites and even some of the Kay Bailey primary voters. We already know that a lot of moderate GOP are breaking for White.

The Greens also have a handful of candidates, mostly at the statewide level. Again, because the Dems did not field a Comptroller candidate, Edward Lindsay carries the torch for future Green Party ballot access in Texas. As Neil notes, if he gets 5%, they'll qualify in 2012.

The League of Women Voters has help for voters. To get voter guides and a ballot for your precinct, visit www. onyourballot.vote411.org. The League's paper voter guides should be in local public libraries by Wednesday. The county clerk's website, www.harrisvotes.net, has information on early voting locations, how to obtain a mail-in ballot and which races are on individual ballots. 

The League and Murray advise voters to do their homework and write down whom they intend to vote for before they enter the voting booth.

Straight-ticket voting does assure that bottom-of-the-ballot candidates get their share (many voters who split their ticket get tired of the long ballot and stop before they get to the end). But because there are frequently issues with straight-ticket voting at the top of the ticket -- and with Harris County using e-Slates from many other places, the likelihood of voting on a compromised one is increased -- the League's and Dr. Murray's advice is well-taken. From the Snopes link:

The best advice to ensure your votes count as you intend is to study a sample ballot in advance, read the ballot and voting instructions provided to you at the polling place carefully before casting your vote(s), and ask a poll worker for assistance if you are unsure about any aspect of the voting procedures. If you think you may have spoiled your ballot, do not hesitate to report the situation to a poll worker.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some political parties may not field candidates for every single partisan office on a ballot, so by selecting a straight ticket you may end up not voting at all in some races. Therefore, if you plan to vote a straight ticket, you might want to review your ballot first to verify that your party has a candidate running for every partisan office listed (and also be sure to cast votes for non-partisan offices not included in the straight ticket selection process). As they say, "If you're going to take the time to vote, take a few extra seconds and make every vote count."

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