The state Constitution and the political culture in Texas together have created an electoral system that invites Texans to choose candidates for a great many public offices at all levels of government in the state.
The Constitution requires direct election for numerous state offices in the executive branch and in the judiciary, as well as for a number of county-level offices. Many legislative initiatives require amending the Constitution, which also requires special constitutional amendment elections. Many municipal and other local offices are filled through elections. In addition, some state and local policy proposals must be put before voters in the form of referendums.
These constitutional requirements for broad electoral involvement in government are expressions of a cultural foundation that generally distrusts concentrated authority. The deep seated populist current in Texas political culture - frequently expressed in a general distrust of governmental authority and a preference for frequent and direct consent of the governed (i.e., popular elections) - perpetuates this complicated electoral system, despite concerns that it might not be well suited to a modern, economically dynamic state.
This distrust of strong government ironically sometimes creates even greater barriers to voter participation. Texas residents have elections of some type almost every year, and at multiple different times during the year. During biennial general elections, the great number of offices and referendums results in exceedingly long ballots. Voters, faced with ballots stuffed with candidate names and issues unfamiliar to them, wonder why they should vote.
Before we examine the degree to which long ballots fulfill their intended purposes, this section examines the different types of elections and the process that emerges from them. Generally, there are two stages for all elections in Texas:
Although there are only two stages, each one comprises numerous distinct areas of activity, all of which involve considerable effort on the part of activists and voters alike.