HOUSTON — Early voting started in Texas last week for the March 4 primary, and votes in the Democratic primaries here in Harris County have already surpassed the total during the early voting period in 2004, according to Beverly Kaufman, Harris County clerk.
Harris County is the third largest county in the country. Houston is the adopted home of former President George H.W. Bush and has been considered a Republican stronghold.
Yet, by Feb. 23, some 38,200 people had voted in the Democratic primary, topping the total 35,381 who voted early in 2004, including Democrats and Republicans. Meanwhile, fewer than 13,000 Republicans have voted early so far this year.
Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are pushing early voting. Texas has both a primary and a caucus. In the primary, voters elect two-thirds of the state’s 228 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. The caucus, held after the primary polls close, selects the remaining one-third. It’s called the Texas Two-Step. Campaigns are hoping voters will go to the primary polls early, cast their ballots — and then focus on going to the caucus.
Obama has closed Clinton’s lead in the polls here. All polls now show them virtually tied. Despite Clinton’s relationships with the Latino communities in Texas, Obama has made significant inroads among Mexican American and Latino voters, who make up close to 40 percent of the state’s population.
In addition, Obama’s campaign has proved skilled at turning out its voters for caucuses, something the Clinton camp reportedly worries about.
Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont all go to the polls on March 4. Clinton has to win both Texas and Ohio to remain viable, commentators say.
But that may prove to be too great a feat. Obama came into Texas from a huge victory in Wisconsin, part of a streak of 11 primary/caucus wins in a row. (“Americans abroad” primary gave him his eleventh victory.)
Economic issues, immigration, health care and foreign policy, including the Iraq war, are dominating the debate in Texas.
Voters here may have corporate greed on their minds as they consider their primary choices. Last week the Houston Chronicle ran a story on the British Petroleum refinery in Texas City, which has killed more workers than any other in the nation.
Following the catastrophic disaster that killed 15 workers in March 2005 at the Texas City refinery, five more have been killed in BP refineries around the country. Three of those were also at the Texas City facility.
Brent Coon, a Beaumont attorney who has represented dozens of families of killed and injured refinery workers, told the Chronicle, “None of these plants are re-investing like they should — production is at an all-time high. They’re pushing the operating envelope at all of these plants, and that makes all of them to some degree time bombs.”
While oil companies put profits before people’s lives, working people and their families are outraged by these unnecessary deaths. That feeling may be spurring the huge voter turnout, analysts say.
Struggle continues on voting rights
Also last week some 2,000 people marched more than seven miles from historically Black Prairie View A&M University to the Waller County Courthouse to demand the right to vote.
Members of the university community were outraged that officials planned for only one polling place in Waller County for early voting. Originally the county planned to have six polling places. Protesters saw it as a blatant attempt to suppress the vote of students who make up a significant portion of the eligible voters in the county. They complained that students at Prairie View A&M have had their voting rights suppressed for decades by Waller County.
Waller County officials were forced under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice to add three polling places.
Prairie View Mayor Frank Johnson said, “These are wonderful kids. They are making a statement. Until they spoke up there was only one early voting place in the entire county. They spoke up but everyone is benefiting from what they are doing.”
The county has been notorious for African American voter suppression and has faced numerous lawsuits over the past decades.
A Supreme Court decision as a result of a Prairie View protest more than 30 years ago allows college students to register and vote in communities where they attend school.
Texans are looking forward to the November battle as well, where the country will have a chance to deliver a final blow to the far-right Bush administration and its clones.
At a recent Obama speech, Texans in the crowd erupted with cheers and laughter when he said, “No matter what, the name George W. Bush will not be on the ballot. I love Texas, but I want y’all to take him back.”