Torres: Time to end Texas Primaries as we know them

It is time to end the Texas primary system as we know it. For too long, party affiliation has dominated the preferences of voters. 

Voters should have the freedom to select who they believe is the most qualified. But, in Texas if who they prefer is of the other party, then they face a dilemma that is undemocratic. 

If elected the new senator for Texas Senate District 27, I will recommend that the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin convene experts in voting rights, voting systems, political parties, and election administration, along with community activists, and others. I will request that they conduct an assessment of how our current open primary-based elections system can be reformed to increase Texas voter participation. 

Salomon Torres

As a Democratic candidate, I seek Democratic votes. However, I also approach voters who have always voted on the Republican primary. These voters believe in my qualifications, track record, and character and want to vote for me, a Democrat, but if they did they would be forced to cross the political party line just to support me. These voters are left with two choices: 1) vote for me in the Democratic primary and lose their opportunity to vote for Republican races they care about, or 2) vote for Republican candidates on the Republican ballot but give up voting for their top choice for Texas Senate District 27, a Democrat. 

The Texas primary puts candidates at a stark disadvantage if they have less funding. Under the current system, a candidate can be forced to raise funds for three elections in one year: primary (March), runoff (May), and general election (November). This is a high burden on individuals who want to serve Texas or the U.S. The primary basically filters out excellent candidates who are actually representative of the working and middle class districts they represent but who are not rich. It also fosters dishonesty, as candidates with money switch parties or declare newfound district residencies to outrun and outspend others in new districts. That is not a very democratic way to elect our representatives and is so misleading. No wonder voters lose their taste for voting with these types of shenanigans. 

Several other states – Democratic and Republican — have a version of the top-two primary system where all party candidates compete against each other in the primary. The top two vote-getters then compete in the November election. A 2020 study by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy found that top-two candidate primaries lead to the election of less extreme representatives and less partisan politics once they are in office. 

As a candidate on Tuesday’s ballot I know first-hand the limitation that our primary system forces on voters. It is frustrating to voters when all they want to do is vote for their preferred candidates, even if they are from both parties. Forcing a voter to choose one ballot or another is undemocratic and not voter-friendly. We tell voters that their vote is free, but it is not when we limit their choices. 

This problem is not limited to Texas Senate District 27. It is statewide and has existed for decades. Former Dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs and former State Senator Max Sherman faced this primary system problem in the 1970s. He explained: 

“In 1970 as a Democrat I was elected to the Texas Senate from District 31, one of the most  Republican areas of the state of Texas. We had no money, but I had to go through three elections, a primary, a runoff, and a general election. That system is not fair to mom and pop voters. I was elected because a large majority of grass root voters in the Texas Panhandle voted  for a ‘local boy.’ It was important to them to have someone who knew every town and  community and was closest to the people.” Professor Sherman concluded: “The primary system has to change. Give mom and pop voters a reason to vote and make a difference.” 

Political parties should be active in voter education and support for their candidates under any type of primary system. To do so, though, local party leaders should be supported financially by their state or national political parties if they wish to be relevant in the long run. 

Texas is tough and Texas is proud. Candidates should be as well. They should be willing to compete with any and all candidates in the primary. Then, let the top two go at it mano a mano in the general election. It could be two Republicans going after it in November, two Democrats competing for it, or one from each party. In the end, it should be the voters that decide these matchups, not the political parties. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Texas Senate District 27 candidate Salomon Torres, of Harlingen, Texas. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Torres can be reached by email via:

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