Texas Taxpayers Spent Over $100 Million to Subsidize a Discriminatory Political System That Limits Voter Choice

May 24, 2017 (Austin, TX) – In a new study, Political Welfare: How Texas Taxpayers Fund a Discriminatory System That Limits Voter Choice, Texans for Voter Choice documents that from 2001-2016 Texas taxpayers spent more than $100 million to reimburse the Republican and Democratic parties for the costs of administering their primary elections and voter registration activities. The winners of these taxpayer-funded primary elections appear on the general election ballot automatically. Read the report

In contrast, the process for independents and minor parties to place their candidates on the ballot can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for just one election cycle, due to the expense of collecting the signatures they must submit on nomination petitions. And unlike the Republicans and Democrats, these candidates have no option under Texas law to be reimbursed. The result is that Texas taxpayers are funding a discriminatory system that limits Texas voters’ choices. It guarantees ballot access to the Republicans and Democrats at no cost to the parties, while their potential challengers must raise and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on petition drives.

Texans for Voter Choice State Director Carly Rose Jackson said: “Texas is starving the democratic process because the Texas ballot access system denies basic principles of equal access to the approximately five million voters who are not affiliated with either the Democrat or Republican parties.”

In our recent report, OUTDATED, OVERREGULATED AND JUST PLAIN COMPLICATED: How Ballot Access Laws Deny Texas Voters a Free Choice at the Polls, Texans for Voter Choice showed that new or minor party candidates for statewide office could expect to pay a minimum of $210,000, and an independent candidate for president $360,000, to appear on Texas’ 2016 general election ballot.

In this report, we examine the other side of the equation: how taxpayers subsidize the Republican and Democratic parties by paying for the process by which they place their candidates on the ballot. Based on data provided by the Office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, we found that from 2001-2016, Texas taxpayers spent more than $100 million to reimburse Texas Counties, and the Republican and Democratic parties for the cost of administering their primary elections and voter registration. These expenditures are mandated by law.

“The taxpayer subsidy of the Republican and Democratic parties is not likely to go away,” said Mark Miller, Vice-Chair of the Libertarian Party of Texas. “At the very least, however, the playing field can be leveled a bit by eliminating or reducing unnecessary and unfair requirements for ballot access by independent candidates and minor parties.”

Texas began reimbursing the Republican and Democratic parties for the costs of their primary elections following a 1972 United States Supreme Court decision, Bullock v. Carter, which held that the filing fees Texas was charging primary election candidates were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Texas then decided, in Bullock v. Calvert, that even though the Republican and Democratic primaries were held by private political parties, they fulfilled a “public purpose”. The Court thus concluded that the Legislature had authority to spend public funds on them.

Texans for Voter Choice supported legislation introduced during the 85th Legislative Session, HB 3068, which would have addressed the discriminatory impact of the state’s ballot access scheme by establishing reasonable signature requirements and filing deadlines for minor party and independent candidates, and by authorizing the signatures to be collected online, through a secure portal maintained by the Secretary of State. A similar system for Arizona system is online at http://apps.azsos.gov/equal/.