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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Huge Voter Turnout Creates Good News, Bad News Angles

Be careful what you wish for. That old saw is ringing in some ears as a result of this month’s Texas primary.

For years, politicians have railed against voter apathy while benefiting from it. It was pathetic that less than 10 percent of registered voters would take part in the primary process — but it sure made things affordable.

This is how it used to work: Politicians would lament the fact so few people would bother showing up at the polls but would do nothing to encourage anyone besides reliable voters to show up.

Why do people get interested in elections? For a number of reasons, most having to do with some form of voter outreach — a phone call, mailing or a personal visit by the candidate.

But, for the most part, candidates only reach out to those individuals they know are going to vote. There’s even an industry name for the most dependable: “3D’s.” That means that person has voted in the last three Democratic primaries and can certainly be counted on to do so again.

In the past, a candidate could reach out to the most dependable voters for relatively little money. Even in a statewide race, a candidate could spend as little as $250,000-300,000 on a mail program and rest fairly assured that he or she was connecting with most of the voting universe.

Suffice it to say that universe changed rather dramatically on March 4. In 2004, the last presidential year, just over 839,000 Democrats voted statewide, compared to almost 3 million this time around.

You don’t have to be a math whiz to see that if you want to communicate with all the newfound voters in the future, you’re looking at a lot more money than you were before.

Houston political consultant Robert Jara is looking at the glass as half full. He says this year’s huge turnout could lead to greater efficiency in the future. In the past, he says campaigns always expected more than the usual suspects to show up at the polls but trying to find them was like shooting in the dark. Now the targets will be much more clearly defined.

However, because of the cost involved, Jara realizes most campaigns won’t be able to reach out to this whole vast new universe and if it’s not just a one-time phenomenon, it could create some serious headaches for consultants like Jara. If that many voters were to keep showing up, he says, “We would be like economists.” Or weathermen.

But the responsibility to educate voters doesn’t merely rest with consultants or candidates; voters have a responsibility to educate themselves.

Many were obviously led to the polls this year only because of the presidential campaign and were kind enough to skip the races about which they knew nothing. Many others weren’t so kind and, as a result, the early analysis suggests factors like who was first on the ballot carried an extraordinary amount of weight. You wouldn’t vote for a presidential candidate just because he or she was first on the ballot, now would you?

So please go back to the polls in the future, but be sure you know something about the person for whom you’re voting. Otherwise, many will wonder why they tried so hard to get you to go in the first place.

(Originally published by Examiner Newspaper Group)

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