Ledge weighs election reform

By Elyas Bakhtiari
Published March 25th 2005 in San Antonio Current

Voting is the topic of three bills under consideration this session, including one that could help third-party and independent candidates.

SB 197, authored by Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, would allow municipalities, independent school districts, and primaries to use instant-runoff voting. Under this system, voters rank candidates from their first to last choice. If no candidate receives a majority of top-choice votes, the candidate receiving the fewest number of votes is automatically eliminated, and his or her votes are reassigned to the voter's second choice.

According to Barrientos' proposal, this system would eliminate expensive runoff elections. But third-party and independent candidates are also interested in the bill, hoping instant-runoff elections would level the playing field. "One of the biggest problems is that people perceive a vote for their conscience as a wasted vote," says Kris Overstreet, media coordinator for the Libertarian Party of Texas. "With instant runoff voting, you can use your first vote as a vote for your conscience, and then you can use other votes to vote against the party or candidate you don't want to win."

Also affecting third-party candidates is HB 1721, which would eliminate a "primary screenout" restriction. In Texas, citizens who participate in a party convention or vote in a primary election can't sign ballot access petitions for another political party or independent candidate. Texas is the last state to retain this restriction.

Addressing a hot topic in last November's election, HB 166 would require all electronic voting machines used in Texas to provide a paper receipt of the ballot. Voting machines would have to be certified and tested by a nationally recognized test laboratory.

State Senator Jeff Wentworth filed SB 1404, which would create a nine-member, bipartisan panel to control the redrawing of Texas' congressional districts. Although Wentworth, a Republican, has submitted similar proposals every session since 1993, this year his bill seems timely. In the 2003 session, Texas House Republicans, with support from U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, redrew congressional districts to favor the GOP. "The problem is that the party in the majority always kicks around whoever is in the minority," says Wentworth, whose Republican Party is in the majority for the first time since the Reconstruction era. "Texas ought to join the dozen or so other states that have concluded that the legislature is not the best place for these lines to be redrawn."