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In Texas, Not All Voters Are Equal

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And to the Texas primary now, as we've been discussing, that state could help decide the Democratic Presidential nominee. But before voters have their say, it might help to understand this about the Lone Star State, not all votes are created equal, and supporters of Hillary Clinton are crying foul, even threatening to challenge the results. NPR's Wade Goodwyn explains.

WADE GOODWYN: Here's the situation. If you're a Democrat voting tomorrow in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, your vote is going to count more than if you're a Democrat voting in El Paso or the Rio Grande Valley or San Antonio. It seems unfair, it seems undemocratic, but as University of Texas professor Bruce Buchanan explains, it's true.

Dr. BRUCE BUCHANAN (University of Texas Professor, Department of Government): Basically, that is due to the rules of the Democratic party that attach penalties to districts with low voter turnout in the last two statewide elections and it privileges those in high Democratic turnout districts, such as in Austin and in Houston and in Dallas, in some cases as many as two to one.

GOODWYN: What this means is that the sections of Texas where there is a strong Hispanic presence, areas where Senator Hillary Clinton is strongest, those voters don't get to apportion as many delegates as the voters in the more urban sections of Texas, where Senator Barack Obama is strongest. What makes this all surreal is that Clinton has President Bush and novelist, song writer, and erstwhile candidate for Texas governor, Kinky Friedman to thank - or blame.

Dr. BUCHANAN: In 2004, George W. Bush got something like 40 percent of the Hispanic/Latino vote in Texas and elsewhere, and that meant that they were not voting on the Democratic side, which lowered the turnout in those districts. I'm not entirely sure what happened in 2006, but the fact that there were two independents running, Kinky being one, most likely did have some impact on, you know, the democratic counts in those districts.

GOODWYN: Some Texas Democratic Party officials jokingly call this the Kinky effect. Mildly, disaffected Democrats, who knew their candidate for governor in 2006 had no chance, and so they voted for Kinky Friedman simply because they like the cut of his jib or were just having fun. Professor Buchanan explains that these 2006 Democrats had no idea their vote for Kinky would cheat themselves of electoral power in 2008, but that's exactly what they did.

Dr. BUCHANAN: Some of those districts in south Texas will deliver two delegates to the winner of the popular vote, where as some districts in cities like Houston, will deliver as many as seven or eight. You get a picture of what Hillary's up against.

GOODWYN: Tomorrow, Hillary Clinton may well win a majority of the primary vote in Texas, but come out of it with fewer delegates than Barack Obama. That's because the vote for Obama in Austin is worth roughly twice what a vote for Clinton in south Texas is worth. But this weirdness can work both ways, as Clinton Texas Campaign Chairman Gary Morrow explains.

Mr. GARY MORROW (Clinton Texas Campaign Chairman): Once you reach viability, you get a percentage. So if we keep Obama under 56 percent in Austin, we get four, he gets four. Well, I think we'll probably keep him under 56 percent. Now, the question is in south Texas, is he gonna be able to keep us under 66 percent? I don't know the answer to that.

GOODWYN: This little Texas tutorial has concerned itself only with the popular vote, which will account for 55 percent of the Democratic delegates in Texas. The confusion doesn't end there, though. The rest will be allocated when voters come back to their precincts after the primary polls have closed and caucus. It's called the Texas two-step, but that's a whole other story.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.