[UPDATE: The election dates were changed by a judicial ruling after this magazine was printed. The new primary Election Day is May 29, with early voting from May 14-25.]

Everyone knows how important it is to vote – but not everyone realizes that most legislators who determine education policy are essentially elected in the primary elections. Here’s what you need to know about the March primaries in Texas:

DATES: Election Day is March 6; early voting is from February 21 to March 2. If you’re not currently registered at your current address, you will need to register by February 6 to vote in the primary.

LOCATIONS: Check your local newspaper or with the county official responsible for voting to find your polling places. Generally, if you take advantage of early voting you can vote at any of the county locations, not just the one in your precinct. 

THE BASICS: You can vote in either the Republican or the Democratic primary, but not both. You cannot vote in the Republican primary for president but in the Democratic primary for down-ballot races, for example. 

You do not have to be a “registered” Republican or Democrat – there’s no such thing in Texas, only registered voters. (Some states include party affiliation on their voter registration applications, but Texas does not.) It’s perfectly OK if you voted in the Democratic primary in 2010 and wish to vote in the Republican primary in 2012.

THE ISSUES: Texas politics and the redistricting process in particular have made the primaries at least as important, if not more so, than the general election in November. The process of drawing legislative boundaries tends to result in districts in which one party dominates, so that in most cases the real decision comes in choosing the relevant candidate representing the dominant party. There are a handful of swing districts, but in most areas your vote will be most important in March.

Because of the hotly contested Republican presidential primary, there may be a strong turnout this March. In previous years, though, the majority of voters participating in both parties’ primaries has tended to be the more “fervant” element – the more conservative Republicans and the more liberal Democrats. If you consider yourself a moderate, you’ll need to show up at the primaries to ensure that your perspective is represented at the Capitol.

There are currently some legal complications in the redistricting process, so as this article is being written the boundary lines have not been finalized. Pay attention to reports from TCTA and local media to ensure that you know what district you end up in and who your candidate choices will be.

Our informal surveys tell us that many teachers tend to vote for policy reasons other than education – some vote for fiscal conservatives, for example, or social moderates, without regard to their education stances. Just remember: You get what you vote for! The primaries often offer your only opportunity to choose between candidates that meet your other criteria but have differing opinions on education. The following may provide food for thought as you’re researching the candidates in your area:

  • Is the candidate willing to consider increased revenue for public education? 
  • Does the candidate support unchecked charter school expansion or private school vouchers? 
  • Does the candidate want to “reform” TRS and convert it to a 401(k)-style plan? 
  • Does the candidate have a history or reputation of listening to school administrators over teachers? 
  • Does the candidate favor tying teacher appraisals and/or salaries to student test performance?

HOW TCTA CAN HELP

Once the district boundaries are settled and the deadline for filing for office has passed, TCTA will be providing information to our members to help answer those questions. The very difficult 2011 legislative session provided a number of key record votes that we’ll be distributing, along with responses to candidate surveys, links to candidate websites, and any other information that may prove useful.

Our TexasTeachersVote.org website will include the above information, as well as contact information for candidates, tips for holding a candidate forum, and other suggestions for getting educated and involved in this very important election cycle.