Why would anyone in their right mind want to conduct a separate primary election? Since I am arguably not in my right mind, I’m not sure. But I can tell you why this is the path we’ve chosen in Gillespie County. Here are the top 10 reasons:
1. The most important determiner for us was that our voters often feel (and are) intimidated by Republicans. Because our Republican majority is so large, many people just think everyone is a Republican. So, when people are standing in line to vote, making the choice to take a Democratic ballot can sometimes elicit derisive comments. Of course, you’re supposed to be able to just point to the ballot you want – that hasn’t always been the case – but often, officials will just assume that the Republican ballot is the ballot of choice. Even in early voting, when people choose the line they want to stand in, you’ll hear comments like, “Oh, you won’t have to wait long if you’re in that line [titter, titter].” More importantly, there have been cases of employers who took action against an employee that they could identify as a Democrat.
2. Having our own polling places increases our credibility. We’re not just seen as “piggybacking” at a Republican polling place. We are separate, independent and just as valid.
3. It puts Democrats welcoming Democrats in voting locations we have chosen. If you don’t think that people will let you use a facility because you’re a Democrat, that’s only rarely the case. We’ve used libraries, club houses, churches, Chamber of Commerce buildings and more. Public facilities are free and with others, a small remuneration is all that is required.
4. Running the polling place gives more of our Democrats the knowledge and experience of how elections are to be run. It has also given us the opportunity to recruit students for half-day duty. They usually get honor society credit or something for the public service; they get a glimpse of how democracy works, and we are growing Democrats for the future.
5. Although our elections administrator offers training for election workers, we have come up with our own training package – just so there is something on paper that people can study. There’s a lot to remember and our EA conducts a good class, but she doesn’t do handouts. We do. We wrote them with her guidance and approval. It gave our workers something to hold in their hands on election days and a resource to answer questions that inevitably come up. Often, it is Democrats that our Elections Administrator wants to use for early voting duty because they are so knowledgeable and fair.
6. When Democrats come to a Democratic voting location and are welcomed by fellow Dems, it makes them feel as if they aren’t alone – that it is acceptable to be a Democrats and that there are more of us that someone might think. It also gives us a great place to connect these voters with our Democratic organizations. Many will want to know about meetings or volunteer to work elections – generally get more involved. We increase our circle of active people every time there is an election.
7. Our Elections Administrator orders the ballots, but setting up the rest of the budget through the Texas Secretary of State website is not difficult and there are a lot of resources to help you do this right both online and in person or via telephone to the SOS.
8. You will pay everyone who works the primary – including some county personnel. Pay promptly and you’re their friend for life. Seriously, when you take care of the people who perform these jobs, it enhances the reputation of the party.
9. The filing fees paid to you and the state party pay for this. It is not money out of your limited treasury. They pay whether the primary is run together with the Republicans or separately. If you can run yours less expensively, you get to keep the money left to run your office. Take advantage.
This is just an aside but, as county chair, I try to visit every polling place both on primary and general election days. It gives Democratic election workers a chance to ask questions or report a problem. I also always bring a box of goodies (one that can be shared by both Democrats and Republicans if it is a general elections). It builds good will and the knowledge that our party recognizes the hard work they do – especially in the more far-flung parts of the county. It’s amazing how happy it makes people who are working on that long election day.
Cathy Collier is the Democratic County Chair of Gillespie County, Texas