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Make Your Vote Count in the May 5 Texas Election

Well, it’s election season again in Texas. Two uniform election dates occur each year in the Lone Star State: (1) the first Saturday in May, and (2) the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. That makes next Saturday, May 5, 2018, the big day for candidates running for public office all across this great State. So, assuming you go out and vote next Saturday (as you should), does your vote actually “count”? I mean, could the outcome of the election actually depend on your vote? Frankly, yes.

Generally, to be elected to a public office in Texas, a candidate must receive more votes than any other candidate running for the office. This is known as a “plurality vote.” In other words, the winning candidate need only have one vote more than the runner-up has. However, some offices require a majority vote, which means that the winner must receive a majority of all the votes cast for the office at the election; which, incidentally, would also be a plurality vote. Occasionally, or dare I say “often,” no one candidate receives a majority of all the votes cast. When this occurs, a runoff election pitting the top two candidates against each other is required.

Sometimes, regardless of whether the election requires a plurality vote or a majority vote, a single vote can make all the difference. And sometimes, there is only a single vote cast. One of the earliest — and shortest — Texas Attorney General opinions I have ever had the occasion to read states “[p]resuming that the manner in which the election was held and the procedure followed was legal and that the only legal vote cast at the general election for said office was cast in favor of the candidate, we respectfully advise that it is our opinion that such candidate is duly elected.” Op. Tex. Att’y Gen. No. O-203 (1939). Obviously, whoever cast that vote had their vote “counted.” Even today in Texas, a single vote can affect a great deal. For example, a single vote can create a special district, elect its board of directors, and authorize the issuing of millions of dollars in bonds. One of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, interviewed a Texas voter who, by his single vote, did just that in an episode titled “One Vote.”

But can a single vote still “count” if it is one of many, if not thousands, cast at the election? Frankly, yes. Again, the Radiolab episode referenced above examines several cases where a single vote made all the difference. Because a majority vote or a plurality vote can be made by a single vote, each individual vote counts. Sure, after the results have been tabulated, you can determine whether it would have made any difference if you had stayed home or not, but by then it would be too late if it turns out your vote would have made the plurality or majority, as applicable.

So much can be won or lost on the basis of so few votes that the margin is often sensationalized in fiction; and, although a loss by a narrow margin is certainly a tragedy for the runner-up, this seems to occur exclusively in comedies. Therefore, in addition to the aforementioned episode of Radiolab, which examines the results of actual elections, I recommend for your amusement the following fictional representations of the value of a single vote, which you can likely buy, stream, or download online [Spoiler Alert!]:

  • Monty Python’s Flying Circus (BBC television broadcast Nov. 3, 1970), particularly a sketch from Season 2, Episode 6, entitled “Election Night Special,” which spoofed a partisan election in which the Sensible Party candidate won by a single vote due to an independent, “very silly” candidate (whose name requires a horn and whistle to pronounce) drawing two votes away from the Silly Party candidate.
  • Welcome to Mooseport (20th Century Fox 2004), starring Gene Hackman and Ray Romano. From IMDb: “A US president who has retired after two terms in office returns to his hometown of Mooseport, Maine and decides to run for Mayor against another local candidate.”

Back in reality, the May 5 uniform election is for “local political subdivisions, such as cities, school districts, and water districts have their regular general elections for members of their governing bodies or special elections to fill vacancies,” according to the Texas Secretary of State’s website. Plus, May 22 is the Primary Runoff Election between several candidates vying for state and U.S. congressional office. This includes two Democrats running for governor of Texas as well as five of the eight open-seats representing Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives. The latter are all Republican primary run-offs. If you are registered to vote in Texas, you have ample opportunity to participate.

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