Sunday, October 26, 2008

My Civic Duty – 2008 Election Edition

Aka “Things I Did Not Know Before This Election But Discovered When Researching Candidates On My Ballot”:

1) Texas puts a crazy amount of information online! It was incredibly easy to find information on incumbents & what they had been doing. While downloading court opinions was very easy*, I would like to compliment especially the state house bill tracking system. Check this out:

I can track the progress of the bill, read supplementary reporting and if it was voted on get the voting info. For fun, I compared this to the website for my US Senator which frankly was terrible when it came to viewing his bills. First of all, getting to his sponsored bills took three screens starting with a teeny-tiny link at the bottom of his homepage. Then, the actual bill review site was very underwhelming:

In all fairness to my senator, he does have a very good history of pushing for government transparency & the like. Also the webpage for reviewing his bills appears to be handled through the Library of Congress so it maybe their faulty web design & not his. But why does his site make it so difficult to get to?

2) San Antonio’s 4th District Court is almost entirely female! And a pretty ideologically diverse and fair-minded group at that (reading the histories and opinions of the court). *is overcome with girrrrrl power glee*

3) While Texas is a lot better than some other states about at least allowing Libertarian candidates on the ballot, the local newspapers are terrible about reporting on them. Even when they mention a lib-candidate, there’s a very begrudging tone like “Oh yeah, both republican & democrat candidates suck so we’re not favoring either...and btw, whatshisname is running as a libertarian *textual giggles*”. Needless to say, this made googling libertarian candidates very annoying. I rarely found more than a name mention in any public newspaper OR on the libertarian party website listing their candidates! Newspapers I have little expectation of fairness from but when the libertarian party doesn't provide details, COME ON! I'm interested but I'm not voting for somebody I know nothing about!

4) Unique Texas practice: “the jury shuffle” – significantly less fun than the two-step. I discovered this while reading an opinion by the current Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Apparently, in Texas lawyers are allowed shuffle the seating placement of potential jurors if there are too many of one gender or one skin color(!) seated together. The only slightly-not-skeevy thing about it is that both the prosecutor or defense attorney can do it. Otherwise, this just sounds unwise.

5) Favorite phase actually used in Texas Court opinions (and quoted from precedent) – “A vain and useless thing” (translation: don’t waste the court’s precious time with BS that has no bearing on the case)

6) We have a LOT of uncontested District Judges being “reelected” in this area of Texas.
The so-called candidates are from both parties. I don’t know the causes for this but I’m pretty uncomfortable with the idea of uncontested elections, even when the incumbent has done an all round good job. There’s something democratically unseemly about the false choice of an elected but unopposed candidate.

7) People in my area really enjoyed voting. There was no drama at all. Everyone was very polite and considerate and it was a very efficient process. One mother teased her son when he came out, “First time voting, just like the first day of kindergarten.” That earned her a "Mooooommm!".

* I got a little too enthusiastic about downloading court opinions and had to cut myself off. I originally intended only to download 1-2 opinions written by those justices up for re-election but…it got a little out of control. If the Texas Court System Database ever crashes, I can provide backups for a significant chunk of the published opinions in the Aug-Oct 2008 timeframe.

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