In a year of preposterous politics, Harris County is upping the ante.
Longtime Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee died unexpectedly early in January, triggering a very odd process for replacing him.
The Harris County Democratic Party precinct chairs will vote, and whoever receives a majority of their votes will be placed on the ballot. As no Republicans or third-party candidates are in the race, the nominee will win the Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 1 seat.
And how many precinct chairs will be voting?
One hundred and twenty four precinct chairs will be voting.
One hundred and twenty four people will vote to determine who will control a budget of billions—that’s billions with a B—and a precinct with over a million residents.
To win, a candidate must secure 63 votes. That’s fewer than 0.01% of voters who’ll elect the commissioner.
That’s a heavy burden for those 124, all of whom take their responsibility very seriously. As precinct chairs, their hard work demonstrates just how much respect they have for the process and for democracy.
In evaluating the candidates, those 124 voters, proxies for over a million precinct residents, will be evaluating whether each one shares a similar record of respecting the voters, the process, and the office.
When the county judge appointed Gene Locke to keep the office running, everyone understood that the appointment was temporary.
[County Judge Ed] Emmett, a Republican, said he sought a caretaker commissioner who planned to step down in December because he did not want to appear to be selecting the Democratic Party’s nominee for the post …
“This is a Democratic Party decision,” Emmett said. “I don’t have a role.”
Upon accepting the appointment, Gene Locke indicated publicly that he understood the temporary nature of his appointment. Asked if he would seek the office, he responded unequivocally:
“My intent is to go back to the practice of law and enjoy my family.”
By announcing his candidacy, Gene Locke has already demonstrated a distinct lack of respect for the voters and the process. He is setting a very disappointing example.
Consider this process in the context of the larger 2016 election cycle. Throngs of newly-engaged and enthusiastic voters who have always assumed winning an election means getting 50% + 1 of the votes are running smack into arcane rules (to newcomers, anyway) for super delegates, caucuses v. primaries, and winner-take-all states, not to mention rules committees that might blow it all up so candidates who got almost no votes are suddenly back in the game.
Consider it in a state, a county, and a city with abysmal voter turnout.
Consider it when you think of people saying their vote doesn’t county because the system is rigged.
The system in this particular case is not rigged, because the process was spelled out clearly long before this episode arose. But the process doesn’t really inspire confidence in the notion of free and fair elections.
In yesterday’s Evenwel v. Abbott decision, the Supreme Court affirmed 8-0 that in the United States, one person one vote is sacrosanct.
With 124 votes on the table, which is about as far from one person one vote as it could get, candidates should strive to demonstrate their worthiness not just to the actual voters, but to the people those voters represent.
And so far, what Gene Locke has demonstrated is that he’s willing to go back on his word. Precinct 1 deserves better.