Elections

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Understand the four types of elections used in Texas
  • Understand the type of primary used in Texas

The Texas Secretary of State serves as Chief Election Officer for Texas, assisting county election officials and ensuring the uniform application and interpretation of election laws throughout Texas.

Types of elections in Texas

Texas uses four types of elections:

  1. Primary Elections
  2. Runoff Elections
  3. General Elections
  4. Special Elections

Primary Elections

A primary election is an election used either to narrow the field of candidates for a given elective office or to determine the nominees for political parties in advance of a general election. State law, not federal, regulates most aspects of primary (as well as general) elections, and local election officials (county, city, and township) are predominantly responsible for administering them.

Runoff Elections

A runoff election is held when no candidate gets 50 percent plus one vote in the primary election. Primary elections often have multiple canddiates vying to represent a party in the general election and it’s not uncommon that a single candidate fails to win 50 percent plus one vote. In such a case there is a runoff election between the top two vote-getters.

General Elections

General elections are elections held at any level (e.g. city, county, congressional district, state) that involve competition between at least two parties. General elections determine the final winner–the candidate to take office. The candidate obtaining the most votes (even if not necessarily a majority of votes) wins.

Special Elections

Special elections are used for constitutional amendments or to fill elected offices that have become vacant between general elections.

In most cases these elections occur after the incumbent dies or resigns, but they also occur when the incumbent becomes ineligible to continue in office.

Special elections are called by the Texas Legislature.

Primaries in Texas

Type of Primaries

Among the fifty states, there are several different types of primary elections:

  • Closed primary. People may vote in a party’s primary only if they are registered members of that party prior to election day. Independents cannot participate. Note that because some political parties name themselves independent, the terms “non-partisan” or “unaffiliated” often replace “independent” when referring to those who are not affiliated with a political party. Eleven states – Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, District of Columbia, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming – have closed primaries.
  • Semi-closed. As in closed primaries, registered party members can vote only in their own party’s primary. Semi-closed systems, however, allow unaffiliated voters to participate as well. Depending on the state, independents either make their choice of party primary privately, inside the voting booth, or publicly, by registering with any party on Election Day. Thirteen states – Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, and West Virginia – have semi-closed primaries that allow voters to register or change party preference on election day.
  • Open primary. A registered voter may vote in any party primary regardless of his or her own party affiliation. Eleven states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin – have open primaries. When voters do not register with a party before the primary, it is called a pick-a-party primary because the voter can select which party’s primary he or she wishes to vote in on election day. Because of the open nature of this system, a practice known as raiding may occur. Raiding consists of voters of one party crossing over and voting in the primary of another party, effectively allowing a party to help choose its opposition’s candidate. The theory is that opposing party members vote for the weakest candidate of the opposite party in order to give their own party the advantage in the general election.
  • Semi-open. A registered voter need not publicly declare which political party’s primary that they will vote in before entering the voting booth. When voters identify themselves to the election officials, they must request a party’s specific ballot. Only one ballot is cast by each voter. In many states with semi-open primaries, election officials or poll workers from their respective parties record each voter’s choice of party and provide access to this information. The primary difference between a semi-open and open primary system is the use of a party-specific ballot. In a semi-open primary, a public declaration in front of the election judges is made and a party-specific ballot given to the voter to cast. Certain states that use the open-primary format may print a single ballot and the voter must choose on the ballot itself which political party’s candidates they will select for a contested office.
  • Blanket primary. A primary in which the ballot is not restricted to candidates from one party.
  • Nonpartisan blanket primary. A primary in which the ballot is not restricted to candidates from one party, where the top two candidates advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation. Louisiana has famously operated under this system, which has been nicknamed the “jungle primary.” California has used a nonpartisan blanket primary since 2012 after passing Proposition 14 in 2010, and the state of Washington has used a nonpartisan blanket primary since 2008.

Texas Primaries

Texas’ primaries are difficult to classify–they are somewhere betwen open and semi-open. Voters in Texas don’t register under a party label, and may choose to vote in either party’s primary (but not both).

Voters who cast ballots in one of the major party primary elections may only vote in the runoff election for the same party in which they cast their primary ballot. Voters who did not cast a ballot in primary elections are free to choose either party’s runoff ballot, but may only vote in one party’s runoff election.