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Texas GOP Approves Party Rule Change to Close Primary Elections

Texas Capitol Building
Created: 29 May, 2024
3 min read

Photo Credit: Wally Gobetz on Flickr

 

For anyone who thinks party rules are not put above state law or the will of voters -- look no further than Texas. 

The Republican Party of Texas wrapped up its 2024 convention over the weekend, but not before they made some changes to their platform -- among them, a change to its primary rules.

The state GOP approved a new rule that would require the Republican Party to conduct closed primary elections. However, this is not a change that would happen immediately.

Texas is an open partisan primary state. Voters do not have to register with a party in order to vote. They simply choose the party ballot they want on primary election day.

Republican leaders have argued for years that the open primary system opens the party's nomination process to "raiding" by Democrats -- also called "crossover voting."

“The time is now for Republicans to choose our own nominees without Democrat interference," said Republican Party of Texas Chair Matt Rinaldi

However, there has never been much evidence to support the claim that either party interferes in the other's primaries -- especially to a degree that would affect outcomes.

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Texas Standard reports:

"Elizabeth Simas, a political science professor at the University of Houston, specializes in electoral behavior and political psychology. She says these cases of 'strategic' or 'sophisticated' voting don’t happen much in primary elections."

“Certainly, there are people who do it… but we just don’t see it happening as much as there’s potentially this fear for it to happen,” she said.

Her findings are supported by national research into this type of behavior to determine whether or not it actually happens as much as some partisans claim in open partisan primary states. 

Other studies have shown that "crossover voting" may at most account for 2% of primary voters -- and most of the time the reason is to support a candidate, not to sabotage a party.

Even when groups explicitly call on voters to raid the "other side's" primary -- it doesn't affect voter behavior because voters pick a party's ballot to support preferred candidates.

Still, party leaders and partisan elected officials push misinformation on the subject in Texas and other states to get party hardliners on their side. 

The GOP rule change in Texas now puts pressure on the legislature to act in 2025 (the next time it is in session). 

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The Texas Legislature meets for 6 months on every odd-numbered year -- so it won't make new primary rules until January at the earliest. 

The author of the primary rule change, GOP delegate Jim Pikl, said the whole point was to put pressure on the legislature to change the state's election laws under the threat of lawsuits.

He was quoted by KERA, saying:

“It's pointing a shotgun [at]…the legislature actually saying, ‘Change it or I'll have Reed O'Connor change it for you,’" referring to a North Texas federal judge.

The Republican Party has a firm hold on the state legislature, so a change to state election law is more likely to happen than not happen. 

After all, what the party wants is more important under a partisan electoral system than what voters want -- and what is actually best for voters.

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