Some Political Players Take a Pass on Primary

Sometimes, even people in politics aren’t interested in elections.

In 13 of the state’s 254 counties, not a single Democrat voted in the presidential race in the May primaries. That includes five counties with party chairmen, meaning the volunteer contact point for all Democratic activity there — the drum major for the Democrats — didn’t vote in the Democratic primary.

This isn’t one-sided. The state Republican Party makes promotional hay of the fact that it has chairmen in each of the state’s counties. But there are five counties in Texas where nobody voted in that party’s primary, which means the local leaders skipped the 2012 election. Three of those five party chairs are listed by their party at phone numbers that are no longer in service. Even in a state as red as Texas, you can find places that are politically inhospitable to Republicans.

Michael Yeary, Republican Party chairman in Zavala County, said his county didn’t turn in any votes because of “low interest.” They were interested on the other side of the fence, where nearly 3,000 Democrats were busy casting ballots. Asked if he had voted in the Republican primary, he said, simply, “No.” He didn’t want to talk about it, but he did say he didn’t vote in the Democratic primary, either.

Wally De Los Santos, the nonvoting Democratic Party chairman in Hockley County, west of Lubbock, was downright loquacious.

“This is my first year. We were out of money, and there was nobody running,” he said of the local elections. “Everybody running in those races was a Republican.”

There were, of course, several statewide races that included Democrats. They didn’t draw any interest in and around Levelland. The election returns produced no evidence of Democrats in Cochran County, just to the west.

“This is very Republican country where we’re at,” De Los Santos said. He said they nearly had a Democratic candidate for sheriff, but “his petitions were full of holes” and he didn’t get on the ballot.

Lots of Texans didn’t vote at all. Combined turnout for the primaries was 15.5 percent of registered voters, with almost five Republicans for every two Democrats.

Four of the five Republican shutouts were in South Texas, a region known for strong Democratic showings and anemic Republican turnouts. One was near the Oklahoma border, in sparsely populated Foard County. While nobody was voting for Republicans in those places, 9,265 were voting for Democratic presidential candidates.

The Democratic shutouts were, with one exception, in West Texas and the Panhandle. It’s odd to have no votes, but no surprise to find more Republicans than Democrats in that area. In total, the primary election tally in those counties was Republicans 11,652, Democrats 0.

No Democrats voted in Roberts County, northeast of Amarillo. The party there doesn’t even have a chairman. Steve Hale of Miami, the Republican Party chairman, said the last elected Democrats in the county have long since switched parties or retired, and all of the local races are decided in his primary. He said the Democrats haven’t had a chairman for years.

“As of right now, I think they’d be very hard-pressed for business,” he said.

Local races — particularly in the less populated areas of the state — are often the main attraction for voters. A voter might actually know the candidate for district attorney. Presidential candidates, who seldom stray far from major airports, seem like TV characters in comparison. One Democratic candidate for the Texas House, Lanhon Odom of Bowie, voted in Throckmorton County’s Republican primary because, he said, that’s where the action was. Perhaps so, but that move disqualified him and left his party without a standard bearer in that race. You can’t wear a blue jersey if you’re playing on the red team.

De Los Santos wasn’t a candidate, but faced a similar choice when it was time to vote. After all, there were four Republicans running for Hockley County sheriff, and one of them will get the job in January.

Did he vote in the Republican primary?

“Hell, no,” he said.

He didn’t vote at all.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/texas-politics/2012-elections/holes-electorate/.

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