Bill Neinast

SNAFU is an acronym well known to members of the Greatest Generation.

Situation normal-all fouled up, the genesis of SNAFU, described federal programs or operations, both military and civilian, that seemed to be frequently, if not perpetually off track.

Now fast forward 75 years to find another governmental program that is best described as SNAFU.  There is no  better way to describe the current system for electing public officials. 

First, though, a round of applause for our public election system.  It fostered and perpetuates the longest running democracy with peaceful changes of the governing bodies in history.  There is, however, always room for improvement even in the best of systems.

The SNAFU in the election system can be summed up with “too.”  There are too many elections, the ballots are too long, and the campaigns are too expensive.

In many places there is at least one election every year.  For some, voting just once a year is almost too much.  When they are faced with two or more returns for primaries, run-offs, and general elections, they just kiss them all off.

This problem of too many elections every year could be alleviated somewhat by requiring all elections for cities, school boards, counties, states, and the federal offices to be held on the same day every other year.  There would still have to be, of course, primaries for all the parties, run-offs in some cases, and then the general election.  This might be bearable for the lazy voters if they knew they had to trek to the polls no more than three times every other year.

Unfortunately, consolidating voting days would compound the next problem. If ballots are already too long, consider what they would look like if all elective offices were included on one ballot.

The four or five page ballots resulting from such consolidation could be easily cut back to one page by some sensible changes to the constitution and laws to bring the state into the 21st Century. 

Organize the counties on the same basis as the cities with the only elected officials being members of the governing body--the county judge and commissioners.  Houston, Dallas, and the other metropolises operate just fine with appointed law enforcement personnel, court clerks, tax collectors, etc.  Why not the counties with much smaller populations and budgets?

Another page of the ballot could be eliminated by eliminating the election of judges.  Texas is one of only six states that elect all judges in partisan elections. 

The problem with electing judges that few think about is aptly summed up in this short letter in the Kiplinger Letter of February, 2013: “The state where I live elects all its judges by popular vote, and their campaigns accept large donations from corporate and labor interests that often end up having business before the same judges. Some of the judges don’t even recuse themselves.” What do you think about this?

A Google search for an answer to this question provides reams of responses favoring appointment of all judges. 

Sixty odd years ago there was a proposal for the Texas Governor to appoint all the state judges.  The appointments would not be for life, as each judge would be on a ballot every four years with the only options being “retain” or “not retain.”  A judge who failed a retention vote would be replaced by another appointee.   The judges would also be subject to removal by impeachment when appropriate.

That proposal failed.  Maybe it is time to reconsider so we can join the majority of the other states.

Finally, more lines would be cut off the ballot by eliminating amendments.  Every state wide election ballot contains a sheet of ten or more amendments of the state’s constitution.  Those are necessary because what purports to be a constitution is really a code of laws dealing with every aspect of life imaginable.  Every time there is a bit of change in life, the constitution has to be amended to keep up with the change.

Forty odd years ago there was also an attempt to rewrite the state’s constitution to mold it into something like the U.S. Constitution that has maintained a stable country and government for over two centuries with only 17 amendments (after the Bill of Rights, or first 10 Amendments).

That effort also failed.  Is it time to try again?

Finally, elections are too expensive.  Nationwide, the total cost must be calculated in billions of dollars.  If local officials other than members of Commissioners’ Courts and judges did not have to finance their election campaigns every four years, think of the money that could be saved and possibly used for charitable purposes.  That might also improve efficiency and would certainly reduce the constant annoyance of campaign adds.

So here’s the perspective.

Eliminating the SNAFU description of the election system as discussed here might make elections interesting enough to get more voters to the polls.

Isn’t that what we want? 


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