in Houston, Texas
US House enjoys incumbency rate the “Chinese National Peoples Representative Congress would envy,” group aims to get more voters to the primary polls
Friday, Dec 09, 2011, 10:27AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

A pair of prominent small government conservative activists want voters to know their apathy during primary elections robs them of a stake in their democracy.

The Alliance for Self Governance has the non-partisan, non-profit goal of getting voters to realize that it is too late for them to affect their government if they wait until November to cast their first ballot, Alliance co-founder Leo Linbeck III says.

Linbeck started the Alliance with Eric O’Keefe, chairman and CEO of the Sam Adams Alliance.

“The dirty little secret is that the political establishment doesn’t want you to vote when it really makes a difference,” Linbeck says. “Presidential primaries and the November general election get all of the attention, so the attention on Congressional primaries is very low. But the party’s over the minute citizens start voting in primaries in greater numbers.”

Add to that the confusion in that some Congressional primaries are held on different dates than the better publicized presidential primaries. For example, the famed New Hampshire presidential primary is scheduled for January 10. But voters in the Granite State go to the polls to pick Congressional primary winners on September 11.

The effort is particularly critical in Texas because it is scheduled to hold the nation’s first Congressional primary on March 6. The deadline for filing for the election and to be eligible as a candidate in the primary is next Thursday, Dec. 15.

Linbeck, a Houston businessman, says Congressional primaries generally draw about 10 percent of eligible voters. These voters tend to be vested in incumbents or special interests that have a much easier time winning in November’s general election.

Nearly nine out of 10 House seats are in single-party districts, Linbeck says. Just four of the 396 incumbents running for re-election in 2010 lost in their primaries. Primary winners, he says, went on to a 26 percent average margin of victory in the 2010 general election.

House incumbents enjoy a rate of election “members of the Chinese National Peoples Representative Congress would envy,” Linbeck says. “If just a small fraction of general election voters show up for primaries, it will force politicians to listen more to their constituents than to K Street lobbyists.”

Field workers have already begun going door to door in Republican and Democratic districts in Texas explaining the importance of primary voting. The effort comes at a time when small-government Texas Party activists say they intend to work to defeat several Texas Republican incumbents in the state’s March 6 primary. (Read Texas Watchdog’s earlier story on the Tea Party effort here.)

“District lines are drawn to protect the parties, so politicians choose the voters instead of voters choosing the politicians,” Linbeck says. “This protects incumbents of both parties, ensuring that little change will occur in Congress without greater participation in primary elections.”

Editor's note: Texas Watchdog in 2008 received generous start-up funding from the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of ‘I voted’ by flickr user Kenn Wilson, used via a Creative Commons license.
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