How comfortable would you be signing a $3,500.00 undated check from your personal account without designating a ‘Payee’, then entrusting it to a complete stranger on the street?

Ludicrous thought, right?

Yet, most Texans commit even more indefensible acts every election.

[side_text]Don Stroud, of Austin, TX, submitted this commentary for and Texas Scorecard.[/side_text]

Instead of a dollar amount, insert a freedom. Any freedom. Of religion. Of speech. Of the press. To assemble peaceably. To petition the government.

Or substitute a right. Any right. To keep and bear arms. To be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. To due process. To trial by jury.

To direct the education of your children.

How often have you entered a voting booth and entrusted your freedoms and rights to a candidate about whom you knew nothing, seeking an office about which you knew little? Even worse, how often have you neglected to vote altogether, whether it be in a party primary, primary run-off, school board, city council, or bond election?

If you are like me, you stand guilty of neglect. But we Texans can no longer afford the luxury of remaining unengaged and uninformed about down-ballot races and low-profile elections. Your liberties are always only one court decision, one executive order, or one legislative session away from being threatened, if not directly assaulted. Every office, on every ballot, in every election in which you are eligible to vote, can impact your freedom and finances either directly or indirectly. In addition, skyrocketing local debt threatens your economic freedom, consuming resources you could put to better use educating and equipping your children and grandchildren.

While most voters are fixated on the presidential race, you have an incredible opportunity at the grassroots level to significantly impact the outcome of down-ballot races. Few voters invest the time to research and make an informed decision on state, district, county, and local races, especially those for judicial offices.

How can you become a better steward of your right to vote? How can you and your family become more informed about ballot measures, candidates, and offices up for election?

Following are just a few steps you can take right now to equip your family and friends to prepare for upcoming elections:

  1. Know election dates and voter registration cut-off dates.
  • The Texas Secretary of State calendar contains the dates for primary, primary runoff, limited uniform, and uniform elections.
  • Check with the office of your county elections official for dates of any special elections or runoff elections for local candidates.
  • You must be registered to vote at your current address at least 30 days prior to the election date. If you are registered in a county other than the one of your current address, even a Provisional Ballot will not count.
  • April 25th is the last day to register to be eligible to vote in the May 24th Republican primary runoff.
  • May 7th is Election Day for local elections (school board, city council, special districts, etc.)
  • If your child will be 18 on or before the date of an election, he/she can register to vote by the registration deadline and vote in that election.
  • Pay special attention to deadlines for requesting a ballot by mail as well as to early voting dates. This is especially important for students who are away at college or summer work.
  1. Teach your children and grandchildren to perform candidate research and discuss as a family.
  • Review a candidate’s literature, website, and social media. Compare persona with facts gathered through other background information and in-person meetings.
  • Review voting records of candidates who have previously served in publicly elected office
  • Review campaign finance reports available at either the Texas Ethics Commission website or at your county clerk’s office. Review which organizations, entities, and individuals are giving to a candidate’s campaign, as well as whose campaigns that candidate has supported.
  • Query the Federal Election Commission website for campaign contributions made by the candidate or to the candidate, if a federal office.
  • Ask candidates to request and complete an Empower Texans questionnaire.
  • Review and compare endorsements and endorsement criteria from various organizations, including Empower Texans, Texas Values, THSC, Heritage Alliance.
  1. Meet candidates and ask in-depth questions that get beyond the sound bite.
  • Contact the candidate directly. Candidates in runoff elections are especially accessible and eager for your vote. Make them earn it by asking direct, open-ended questions.
  • Ask the candidate’s campaign where and when the candidate will be speaking in your area.
  • If a partisan race (Republican vs. Democrat), contact the party’s county chair/ headquarters and ask whether any candidate forums are scheduled.
  • Organize and/or host local candidate forums. Your local library, meeting hall, church facility, or restaurant meeting room are excellent venues to have all candidates for a particular office meet for a moderated Q&A.
  • Have students organize and moderate candidate forums. This would be an excellent project for a student club, especially speech and debate.
  • Attend your party’s state convention. Even if you are not a delegate, there are opportunities to meet candidates who are eager for your vote.

Completing the above actions may not make you any more comfortable about writing an annual $3,500.00* property tax check , but at least you will know the names of those who are spending it and putting you and your children on the hook for more long-term debt.

Even more important, you will be prepared to cast an informed vote for those candidates whose oath of office is more than just good intentions.

*Based on DFW area median home value of $138,000 and total property tax rate of 2.57%. Assumes homeowner escrows own taxes and makes one payment rather than mortgage company collecting and escrowing $291 from each monthly mortgage payment.

Don Stroud

Don Stroud is a 7th generation Texan who has served as a city councilman, election judge, and regional education leader.