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Texas Politics - Voting, Campaigns and Elections
 
 
  Key Words and Phrases

absentee voting
Any effort to accommodate otherwise qualified voters who are unable to go in person to their designated polling place on election day. Absentee voting includes mail-in ballots that can be requested by state residents who live out of state or who will be out of state on election day. In some states such as Texas absentee voting also includes early voting--provisions for in-person voting at special polling places set up prior to election day.
American exceptionalism
Most countries' sense of themselves comes chiefly from a common history and group ties. The United States, many have variously observed, is an exception. It is organized around an ideology sometimes called the American Creed that includes a set of doctrines about the good society: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissezfaire. Some interpret American exceptionalism to indicate a moral superiority of Americans, while others use it to refer to the American concept as itself an exceptional ideal which may or may not always be upheld by the actual people and government of the nation. Dissenters argue it is little more than crude propaganda, a justification for an inherently chauvinistic and jingoistic America-centered view of the world. Historians often use the term to simply refer to some unique aspect of American development--for example, the idea that America is a settler society--without any implied claim of American superiority due to uniqueness.
approval voting
A decision according to which group members vote for as many or as few candidates as they wish. The group agrees to choose the candidate who receives the most votes.
at-large representation
In contrast with the single-member district system usually used in the United States, voters in a given geographic area using an at-large system select two or more individuals to represent them. Though the vast majority of elective offices are structured so that a single person is elected to represent a given geographic district, at-large systems of representation are sometimes used in Texas and elsewhere in the U.S. to fill boards, commissions, councils and other multi-member representative bodies particularly in local governments.
Borda count
A decision rule according to which members of a group rank all candidates. Each candidate receives points based on the ranking of each voter. The group agrees to choose the candidate who receives the most points.
closed primary
Based on a permanent record of each voter's party affiliation, participation in each party's primary elections is restricted to those voters affiliated with that party.
Condorcet method
A decision rule according to which a group agrees to choose the candidate or option that beats every other one in head-to-head competition. Also called the method of pairwise comparison.
early voting
Texas and a few other states allow any qualified voter to cast his or her vote prior to election day at specially designated polling places. In Texas the early voting period runs from the seventeenth day before an election through the fourth day before the election.
general election
In this type of election all registered voters can make a final choice between parties' nominees for each office on the ballot. The winner--usually chosen by plurality rule--fills the office.
grandfather clause
Part of the system of Jim Crow in southern states used to enforce segregation in primary elections. In its typical usage, a voter could vote in Democratic primary elections if his grandfather had been able to vote in Democratic primaries. Blacks whose ancestors had been slaves were thereby excluded but whites were made eligible, even poor whites who might otherwise be disenfranchised by the burden of a poll tax or by literacy requirements.
information costs
The costs of acquiring, processing, and using information, part of the costs associated with any type of decision, including a decision how to vote.
instant runoff
A decision rule according to which group members rank all candidates. The candidate with the fewest first place votes is dropped and replaced by the second choice of those who placed her first. This is repeated until only two candidates remain. The group agrees to choose the one with the most first place votes.
Jim Crow
This term, which came to be used to designate any law requiring racial segregation, was borrowed from a racially stereotyped black character in a common nineteenth century song-and-dance act. Segregation by law is now unconstitutional, but unofficial segregation still exists widely today in the North as well as the South.
literacy test
A test of a voter's ability to read and understand and hence vote intelligently, typically used in a discriminatory manner in some states until Congress suspended the use of such tests in the Voting Rights Acts of 1970 and 1975.
lowest unit rate
The advertising rate broadcasters must offer to candidates for federal office. Federal communications law requires radio and television broadcasters to charge candidates for federal office no more than they charge their most favored commercial advertisers for the same advertising class, quantity of adverstising, and time slot.
non-partisan election
Elected offices for which the use of party labels on the ballot or in campaigning is proscribed by law. Judicial or local elections are often nonpartisan. Voters must chose among candidates identified on the ballot and during the campaign only by name without benefit of party labels.
off-year election
Presidential elections which take place every four years are the main events among American elections. Elections at any other time are off-year or non-presidential election year elections. The most important of these coincide with non-presidential election year congressional elections. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives serve two year terms. They are on the ballot in presidential election years along with one-third of U.S. Senators as well as candidates for various state and local offices (which differ from state to state). Two years later all members of the House must run again along with another third of the U.S. Senate and a host of other state and local elected officials. These off-year elections are also called midterm elections.
open primary
No permanent record is kept of which party ballot voters select or have selected in the past and voters are not required to declare a party affiliation. Hence, voters can vote in the primary of their choice.
party identification
A person's psychological attachment or habitual loyalty to a partisan reference group such as the Democratic or Republican party. For most people in the United States, this emotional bond rather than formal membership in a partisan organization is the primary link to organized politics.
plurality rule
A decision rule according to which a group agrees to do what the largest number of them agree to is known as plurality rule. Plurality rule is widely used to decide election outcomes in the United States. It is also called the winner-take-all or first-past-the-post system.
political action committee
A political action committee (PAC) is an entity other than a political party regulated under federal and state law that raises and spends money to elect or defeat candidates. Compared with the maximum individual contribution of $2,000, PACs qualified and registered to participate in federal elections may contribute up to $5,000 per candidate per election.
poll taxes
A tax of a fixed amount per person levied as a condition of voting. Poll taxes generally were not intended to raise revenue so much as to restrict the size of the electorate by making voting more costly. Amendment Twenty-Four added to the U.S. Constitution in 1964 outlawed the use of a poll tax as a pre-condition for voting in any election for federal office. The U.S. Supreme Court extended the ban to all state and local elections in 1966.
populism
Broadly, a term used to describe any political movement having popular backing which is also perceived to be acting in the interests of ordinary people. Historically in the U.S., populist political themes emphasize government's role as an agent of the common man, the farmer and the worker, in his struggles against concentrated wealth and power.
primary election
More formally known as a direct primary, in this type of election the party electorate chooses which candidates will run for office under the party's label. The primary election was introduced in the United States during the Progressive era around the turn of the twentieth century as a reform of the nomination process and it spread rapidly. Previously, as in much of the democratic world yet today, party leaders, activists, and elected officials--not the voters--had selected each party's nominees for each office.
proportional representation
A practice of allocating seats in a legislature or a nominating convention to parties or other groups in proportion to their strength in the electorate. Proportional representation is widely used in parliamentary democracies in contrast with the U.S. practice of single-member districts with winner-take-all elections. In Democratic presidential primary elections in the U.S., for example, candidates who win at least 15% of the votes in a state receive a share of that state's delegates to the national convention proportional to their vote total.
runoff election
In most states the primary candidate who wins a plurality of the votes -- more than any other candidate, though not necessarily a majority -- wins the nomination. However, most Southern and border states including Texas require that a primary winner receive at least fifty percent of the vote. This requirement is a legacy of Democratic one-party dominance in the South. When there were no viable Republican candidates, winning the party nomination was the same as winning office. Because Democratic factionalism frequently produced more than two serious candidates for a single office, runoff elections were instituted to ensure a majority winner. If no one in a multi-candidate primary wins a majority, the top two vote getters compete in a runoff to determine the party nominee.
Sharpstown
The Sharpstown stock fraud scandal, the Texas counterpart to Watergate, gripped the state of Texas in 1971 and 1972 entangling officials at the highest levels of the state government. Houston banker and insurance company executive, Frank Sharp, through his companies, the Sharpstown State Bank and the National Bankers Life Insurance Corporation granted $600,000 in loans to state officials with the understanding that they would purchase stock in National Bankers Life to be resold later at a huge profit. Loan recipients helped produce the profits by pushing passage of legislation that Sharp sought benefiting his insurance company and inflating its value. The scheme succeeded, generating about a quarter million dollars in profits for investors. But in 1971 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed criminal and civil charges against key participants in the scheme including former state attorney general, Waggoner Carr, former state insurance commissioner John Osorio, Sharp and a number of others. By mid 1971, anyone in the state government remotely connected to Sharp was under heavy political pressure. Allegations of bribery spread to House Speaker Gus Mutscher, State Representative Tommy Shannon, state Democratic party chairman and state banking board member Elmer Baum and even Governor Preston Smith. The SEC indicted Mutscher, Shannon and Rush McGinty (a Mutscher aide) in late 1971 for conspiracy to accept a bribe from Sharp. They were tried in Abilene in 1972, convicted, and sentenced to five years' probation. Sharp, convicted of violating federal banking and securities laws, received three years' probation and a $5,000 fine. Electorally the damage was severe. In state elections in 1972 every candidate even remotely connected to the scandal (almost all of them conservative Democrats) was defeated by more moderate Democrats, Republicans or other reform candidates. Governor Smith lost his primary bid for a third term to businessman Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde who was elected governor. In addition, in a fit of reform, lawmakers in 1973 passed a series of reforms that required state officials and politicians to disclose their personal and campaign finances.
simple majority rule
A decision rule according to which a group agrees to do what at least one half plus one of the group agree to is known as simple majority rule. It encapsulates a core idea of democracy.
single-member district
Voters in a given geographic district chose one and only one person to represent them in a governing body such as a legislature, a commission, a board, or a council.
special election
Elections which are not regularly scheduled but are called in response to events or held at the city level are called special elections. For example, when a legislative or congressional seat becomes vacant before the end of the current occupant's term a special election to fill the vacancy is held. When the Texas legislature proposes changes to the Texas constitution a special election is held so voters can ratify or reject the changes. City council elections also are special nonpartisan local elections.
split-ticket voting
In contrast with straight ticket voting, i.e. voting for all the candidates of one party, split-ticket voters vote for candidates of different political parties for different offices
straight-ticket voting
A voter who votes for all candidates of one party rather than choosing from candidates of different parties in each race on the ballot is a straight ticket voter. Many states, like Texas, make it relatively easy to vote a straight ticket by offering voters the option to check just a single box to select all candidates running under a single party label.
transaction costs
The costs associated with any type of exchange or the implementation of a decision. For example, the decision to vote entails a trip to the polling place, perhaps through rush-hour traffic in a car without air conditioning that is nearly out of gas.
white primary
A method of electoral discrimination against African-American, Latino, and other minority voters widely used in the South until the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in the early 1940s. States and party organizations previously had great leeway to set their own rules regarding participation in primary elections which nominate party candidates. In the South which was overwhelmingly Democratic, victory in the primary was tantamount to winning the election. To preclude minority political participation, segregationist authorities imposed a variety of discriminatory rules on voters such as limiting voting in primary elections to whites only.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115