Tips for Libertarian Activists

Primaries vs. conventions

Last updated 1995-09-11 by Michael Lee

Primaries -- bad idea

In 1992 and 1994 in Texas, the LP had the right to have primaries. In Texas, if the LP chooses to have a primary, that applies to the whole state. It is not permitted to have primaries in some counties and conventions in other counties. Only about 10 to 15 counties in Texas even have an active county party that has had a convention.

Even the best organized counties in Texas do not have the quantity of activists necessary to hold a primary. Honey Lanham and I did the research on the possiblity of having a primary in Dallas County.

There are several hundred polling places in Dallas County. You need three people per polling place. They cannot be a candidate in that precinct.

The LP could, with permission of the FEC and the U.S. Dept. of Justice and the Secretary of State of Texas, combine precincts and reduce the number of polling places. According to Bruce Sherbert, Dallas County Election Administrator, those agencies would never approve fewer than 16 polling places for a county the size and population of Dallas. 3 x 16 = 48 workers minimum. They must not be candidates.

There was a book two inches thick full of rules and regulations to be studied. There were all kinds of enormous paperwork burdens. There was enough work to keep one person busy at least four hours a day for several weeks ... maybe months before the primary -- just in Dallas County. If Dallas and Tarrant and Harris and a few other counties had primaries, the 200 other counties in Texas would have nothing.

The filing fees for the 1992 LP Texas candidates would have been $80,000 to $100,000. Most of our offices were uncontested at the convention. Why have a primary if only one libertarian applied for the job? Would you run for County Commisioner if you had to pay $500 to do so?

History of Primaries in Texas

In 1900, there was virtually no Republican Party in Texas. As the Republicans began to gain in strength, the Democrats who ran the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring political parties to have primaries if that party's candidate for governor got more than 20% of vote. Between 2% and 20%, a primary was optional. For 20 years, the Republicans had the option to have a primary and they chose not to have one. Then, one year, they got 19% of the vote for governor and they had one the next time around anyway. In that year, the Republican candidate for governor got only 15% of the vote. Having a primary hurt the Republican Party.

The Republicans never had another primary unless they had to.

The history was obvious -- the Republicans gradually gained strength until they had to have a primary. Then, when they held the primary they did worse than the had done in the previous election without a primary.

The explanation is very clear. Running a primary is an enormously expensive burden on a party because of the paperwork and bureaucracy. It is an enormously expensive burden on its candidates because of filing fees.

Each time the Republican Party had a primary, its candidates did worse than they did in the preceding election when there was no primary to drain the party of resources.

This happened repeatedly for 20 to 30 years. Got more than 20% and they were forced to have a primary. The primary drained their resources and they got less than 20% and chose to not have a primary. Regained some resources and got more than 20% again and were forced to have a primary again. Lost momentum again. They did not consistently stay above 20% until the 1940s. From the first time they got more than 20%, it was 20 to 30 years before they always got more than 20% for governor.

The Democrats forced the Republicans to have a primary to weaken it.

In Texas, each party pays for its own primary and the state of Texas reimburses the party for most of its expenses. In 1992, the Republicans and Democrats received $12 million each from the state of Texas as partial reimbursement for holding a primary.

If the LP had a primary in 10 counties (leaving the other 200 with nothing), the LP would probably have to spend more than $4 million and then apply to the state of Texas for reimbursement. The Democrats and Republicans have to authorize a special bill authorizing this reimbursement. What happens if they claim we did not fill out the forms correctly. They might delay payment and we go broke.

Where is the LP Texas going to get $4 million?

A primary is an expensive burden on the taxpayers of Texas.

These are the facts for Texas:

  1. Primary costs LP Texas over $4 million.
  2. LP applies to Texas for reimbursement of most of that money.
  3. Primary costs LP candidates $80,000 to $100,000 in filing fees.
  4. Primaries can only be held in largest counties because only they have a county organization. All other counties are ignored.
  5. Each county needs full-time person to fill out forms and talk to bureaucrats for several weeks/months before primary.
  6. On primary day, each large county like Dallas, needs at least 48 poll workers all day long (14 hours).
  7. LP candidates cannot be poll workers in their own district.
  8. LP activists have no money and little energy left after the costly primary to campaign and they will get fewer votes in the general election.
  9. Primaries were created by large parties to weaken small parties and subsidize large parties. The taxpayer pays in both cases.