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March 7, 2008

Voting rules, partisan practices and faulty registration databases seem to blame for a series of “anomalies” in the March 4th Texas primary.  One county provisionalized most of its voters in both the Republican and Democrat primaries, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s website.  The SOS also reports a different number of precincts in 54 counties, depending on which party is voting.  No Republicans voted in 21 counties, and no Democrats voted in three counties.

But perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the Texas primary is that despite the popular vote going for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Texas delegates are voting for Barack Obama. 

Provisionalizing Voters 

Those whose names do not appear on voter rolls are provided a provisional ballot which will later be counted if the voter can prove she is legally allowed to vote. Party operatives use voter rolls to disenfranchise targeted segments of society.  We saw this in Florida in 2000 from Greg Palast’s exposë. With the advent of statewide, computerized databases, the job of vote suppression becomes child’s play. 

Electronic “glitches,” fluctuations in humidity, and power outages can also remove huge portions from computerized rolls. Computerized registration databases can also refuse to recognize valid voters because the voter’s name or street is hypenated (or not).  

The statewide provisional vote rate for the Dem and Repub primaries in Texas was 0.34% and 0.49%, respectively. But in the Republican primary in Coleman County, of 3,301 people who showed up to vote, 2,597 of them (79%) had to vote provisionally. 

In the Democratic primary in Coleman, 59% of the people (2,597) who showed up at the polls (of 4,374) were required to vote provisionally.  

The same exact number voted provisionally in both primaries in Coleman County.  Impossible.

Coleman used both optical scan and touch screen voting systems by Hart InterCivic.  A more thorough study may explain these numbers, which shouldn’t be too difficult since Coleman only has six precincts.  A good place to start is the voter rolls.   

Delegates, Not Voters, Pick Dem Candidate 

The Texas Secretary of State website reports that 1,459,814 people voted for Hillary Clinton, and 1,358,785 for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary.  But because of the way Texas votes, delegates may choose Obama contrary to public will.  Lisa Pease explains:

Texas is the only state in the union that legally allows people to vote twice: once in the primary, and once in their local caucus, or, as they are called in Texas, “precinct conventions.”  Roughly two-thirds of the pledged delegates (126) are determined by the outcome of the primary, and the remaining delegates (67) are determined by the results of the caucuses.  Only those who have already voted in the primary are allowed to vote in a caucus.

When the media proclaimed Clinton the victor in Texas, the caucus results were simply not part of the equation. But now that more than 24 hours have passed, something fascinating is happening.  Obama appears to be winning Texas.

With 48% of the caucus results reported as of early Thursday morning, per the Texas Democratic Party’s Web site, Obama has won approximately 56% of the caucus votes, leaving Clinton with just under 44 percent.

But this is not how most of the public voted. 

One-Party Counties 

Richard Hayes Phillips was the first to send up a flag about the one-party counties – where zero Republicans voted in 21 counties and zero Democrats voted in three counties.  All these counties used either touch screen or optical scan systems made by either ES&S or Hart InterCivic.  It turns out the voting system didn’t seem to play a part. 

Phillips learned that a number of Texas counties have no county chair (particularly on the Republican side), as explained to him by Texas attorney David Rogers.  “With no county chairman, there is no one to organize or run a primary.”  Phillips goes on:

I was startled by the explanation… This seemed unacceptable in a democracy. Rogers replied that, unacceptable or not, this is the most likely explanation for the results I observed.  “Republicans have been disenfranchised like this in Texas for over a century.”  In fact, getting the number of no-Republican-primary counties below 25 is a recent and remarkable achievement.

Rogers explained that while ballots, voting machines, and election workers are all paid for by the state government, the local parties at the county level have to bear the costs of administration and accounting; and they have to find someone to do the paperwork, and somewhere to store the paper.  “The costs in time and money to the parties aren’t much, but they aren’t nothing.”

“The failure is almost entirely organizational,” Rogers said.  “The state party tries to help the local counties some, so which counties have no party changes some from year to year, but the state party can’t force the locals to organize if they don’t want to.”

“If there aren’t enough Republicans in a county to organize themselves and pay the costs required,” Rogers concluded, “I would say the Republicans are self-disenfranchising.”  A “party whose members can’t bestir themselves enough to set up a primary obviously aren’t that interested.”

Populist Texas attorney, David Van Os, had this to add: 

Armstong, Hansford, and Roberts are the 3 counties in Texas that as of now don’t have Democratic county chairs. They are all in the upper Panhandle. So they didn’t have Democratic primaries because there was nobody to hold one. In general elections the Democratic vote typically ranges from about 12% to about 22% in those counties. 

(As of 2006 there were about 7 or 8 counties that didn’t have Democratic county chairs, but the palpable changing of the tide has led Democrats to come out in several of them and volunteer to serve as county chairs and organize a local Democratic party. For example, there is now a Democratic county chair in Ochiltree county for the first time in about 15 years, and Ochiltree County held a Democratic primary this year for the first time since then.)

There is an even greater number of rural West Texas and rural South Texas counties that don’t have Republican county chairs, with some of them being Democratic counties in national and statewide elections and others being Republican counties in national and statewide elections.

To explain more, an interesting quirk about rural Texas is that, outside of South Texas, in both eastern and western rural counties, there are quite a few counties where the last top-ticket Democrat that carried them was Jimmy Carter in 1976, but where the offices of county government are still held 100% by Democrats just like they have been ever since Reconstruction ended in 1877. It is just long, deep tradition.

In county government offices, everybody runs in the Democratic primary and the elections are decided in the Democratic primary – even though the majority of the voters are Republican voters for the purposes of everything above the level of county government.

But in most rural South Texas counties, the huge majority of voters are simply Democrats period, for all purposes, and there is nobody to run as a Republican because no Republican could possibly get elected to anything.

It turns out the counties with zero votes most likely did not hold a primary.  


The number of people who officially voted as a percent of the number of registered voters constitutes the turnout.  Statewide, the Democratic primary boasted a 22% turnout, doubling the Republican turnout of 11%.   

I looked at individual counties and found anomalies of note: In the Republican primary, most of the counties (58%) had turnouts larger than the state average of 11%.   

Glasscock County reportedly had a 60% turnout – six times the state average!  Maybe those Repubs who couldn’t vote in their residential counties migrated to Glasscock for the day.  The ES&S Automark was used by voters who need assistance voting, so it appears that Glasscock hand counted the ballots. 

On the Dem side, 43% of counties had a higher turnout than the state average of 22%, but turnout in eleven counties more than doubled the state average: 

44% Throckmorton, Willacy, Crockett, and Stonewall
45% Zapata (both Hart DRE and optical scan)
47% Zavala (ES&S optical scan)
50% Brooks (both Hart DRE and optical scan)
51% McMullen (hand-count)
54% Duval (Hart DRE)
56% Kennedy (both Hart DRE and optical scan)
59% Jim Hogg (both Hart DRE and optical scan)

On the low end for Democrats, six counties reported 5% or smaller turnout.  One of those low-end Dem counties is Glasscock – with the huge Repub turnout. On the low end for Republicans, in addition to the 21 zero counties, another 35 counties reported 5% or smaller turnout. 


Putting it all together can be difficult for those who will explore this further.  Having an historical perspective will undoubtedly help to shed light on the seemingly strange voting patterns of the state that George W. Bush governed. 

If the unofficial votes on the Texas Secretary of State’s website do not change all that much when the official votes are posted, we may see the public will being thwarted by partisan rules that disenfranchise voters at best, or completely ignore the public will at worst.

Thanks to Richard Hayes Phillips and Kathy Dopp for providing links to Secretary of State information discussed above.