By Kathryn Kelman/editor-in-chief
Primary elections and midterm elections often have the lowest voter turnout.
To prepare the TCC community for the Texas primary election March 6, government and history professors from around the district talked about what people should know before heading to the polls.
The midterm election falls in the middle of a president’s four-year term. The U.S. holds midterm elections because the men who wrote the Constitution wanted the House to be more representative of the voting public’s voice, said NW history adjunct instructor William “Denny” Thweat.
“So congressmen come up for election more often to give the populace a chance to remove representatives that do not share their views on major issues,” Thweat said.
While midterm elections give voters a chance to vote for some U.S. Senators, members of the House of Representatives run for re-election every two years, South government adjunct instructor Calvin Bell said. Meanwhile, midterm elections are also when voters may decide many state and local government contests.
“Your local government and state elections are where the focus is needed most,” Bell said.
Midterm elections make voting simpler for ordinary citizens, he said.
“If all candidates from the federal government and the state government go to the ballot box every four years, it will get a little overwhelming,” Bell said.
Congress has 535 members, and the Texas Legislature has 181, he said.
“Imagine if all those elected officials decided to go up for election in 2020. It would be terrible,” Bell said. “This is why the state government decided to stagger these elections to make voting easier and keep the voting process as smooth as possible.”
TCC Connect government adjunct instructor Michael Harding noted the differences in term lengths as another reason why the U.S. has midterm elections.
The president serves a four-year term, representatives serve two-year terms and senators serve six-year terms and are divided into thirds so that one-third of the Senate is up for election every two years, Harding said.
“The different terms of office and the different modes of appointment are means of preserving the separation of powers,” he said.
The March primary elections precede the November general election, and TR government instructor Corena White said primaries give voters options within a political party. She compared the vast amount of options voters have during primaries to getting a drink at Sonic.
“At Sonic, you can get hundreds of thousands of drink combinations, and during the primaries there are several candidates to choose from in each party,” she said.
Most of the contests are for state positions, White said.
“It’s members of the state legislature, the state executive and judiciary branch, and then we will also be voting for our U.S. House representative and then we also have the opportunity to vote for a new senator. [U.S. Sen.] Ted Cruz is up for re-election this year,” she said.
White also stressed that Texas is an open primary state, meaning voters don’t have to pre-register as a member of a political party to vote.
“Voters can vote in either party’s primary but not both,” she said. “So when voters go to the polls, they need to ask specifically for the Democratic Party ballot or the Republican Party ballot.”
Independent voters can also vote in Texas primary elections for either party, she said.
Harding said primary elections can also serve to highlight which issues are the most important in the minds of voters.
“The primary not only expresses the sense of the party electorate on the issues but also on the electability of the possible candidates,” he said. “For example, many Democrats leaned toward [Bernie] Sanders but supported [Hillary] Clinton in the primary in part because they thought she was more electable.”
The primary process is especially interesting and important right now because both the Republican and Democratic parties are struggling with internal divisions, Harding said.
Thweat echoed his sentiment, saying primaries allow voters to shape their party’s agenda moving forward.
“Often, candidates have different stances on critical issues like immigration, abortion and gun control, and primary elections allow people to choose a party candidate that professes to hold similar beliefs on these issues,” Thweat said.
In Tarrant County, the primary election almost always determines who will win the general election, NW government associate professor Paul Benson said.
“Republicans have such a strong majority that the Republican nominee will win all countywide races, which include all district and county judges, the district clerk and the tax assessor,” Benson said.
This is because of how the districts are drawn, he said.
“Every state house district is drawn so heavily Republican or heavily Democrat that the primary will decide the election,” Benson said, adding that the same is true for every senate district except for state Senate District 10, which is still somewhat competitive.
One thing to watch this election cycle is how each party’s internal divisions play out, Benson said, questioning whether the progressive wing will overtake the Democratic Party.
“For the Republicans, it is a more complicated division among the social conservatives, the economic conservatives and the tea party movement,” he said.
The midterm election cycle is also a chance for the American people to give Washington and the president a “progress report,” Harding said.
“A favorable result for the president’s party increases the president’s political capital; an unfavorable one reduces it,” he said. “Midterms can be a referendum on the presidency, and a prudent president can learn and change course depending upon the outcome.”