The Issue - Removing Ballot Access Barriers in Texas

The Issue

Once upon a time in Texas, any qualified citizen could run for public office. All you had to do was throw your hat in the ring, so to speak. And Texans could vote for any candidate they wanted. People just wrote their choices down on a piece of paper and dropped it in a box. All the government did was tally votes and announce the winners.

And for the first 100-plus years of American history, every other state ran elections the same way.

Now it’s not so simple.

Problems developed with these early, unregulated elections. Political parties started printing their own ballots, which only listed their own candidates, and handing them out at polling stations. The problem was, they also handed out bribes and threats – whatever it took to get people to cast the party’s ballot. Soon, harassment and intimidation of voters was rampant.

To fix the problem, states began to print official ballots, which listed every candidate running for each office. The idea was to restore and protect voters’ freedom of choice by letting them cast their ballots in the privacy of the voting booth.

Texas printed its first official ballot in 1903.

And it worked.

Just like that, Texans could vote once again for any candidate they wanted.

But what started as a way to protect voters’ freedom of choice is the very thing that denies it to Texans today. That’s because getting on the ballot in Texas isn’t easy – except for the two oldest political parties. Republicans and Democrats nominate their candidates by means of taxpayer-funded primary elections, the winner of which is placed on the ballot automatically.

That’s right: taxpayers pay for the major party nominees to appear on the ballot.

But for the average Texan, who doesn’t have the backing of a major party, a complicated, burdensome and outdated set of regulations makes it almost impossible to get on the ballot.

Say you are an independent who wanted to run for office in 2016.

Here’s how many valid signatures you needed to submit on a nomination petition:


And you had to collect these signatures by hand, using pen and paper, in a very short time – only 75 days for independent presidential candidates.

But that’s just the beginning.

Lots of other restrictions and requirements can trip you up along the way. For example, anyone who voted in a primary can’t sign your petitions. So, to make sure you have enough valid signatures, you have to collect 50 percent more than the requirement – meaning around 70,000 signatures to run for Governor, and 120,000 to run for President. And the only way to do that in such a short time is to hire paid petition circulators.

At the going rate of $3 per signature, just getting on the ballot will cost you around $210,000 to run for Governor, and $360,000 to run for President.

Is that reasonable, when Republicans and Democrats do it for free, on the taxpayers’ dime?

We don’t think so.

Qualified candidates shouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg just to get on the ballot in Texas. And Texans should be free to vote for any candidate they want. Just like they used to do. But that’s not how the system works anymore.

In 2016, 44 percent of the races for state Senate and 54 percent of the races for state House had only one candidate running unopposed. Voters in these districts – roughly half the state – had no choice at all as to who represents them in the Legislature.

That’s why we’re working to enact the Texas Voter Choice Act in the 2019 Texas Legislative Session.

And we need your help to get it done.
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