© 2012 jbjd
The Texas legislature enacted a law that directs the chairs of the major political parties to submit to the Secretary of State (“SoS”) the names of the party candidates who will appear on the ballots in both the Presidential preference primary as well as the general election. It also passed a law that entitles candidates for President from the major political parties to appear on the general election ballot, only if they are “federally qualified” for the job. TX Election Code §192.031
Unlike the Presidential candidates from the major political parties; Independent and Write-In candidates apply to appear on the general election ballot directly to the SoS. For this reason; consistent with the ‘federally qualified’ standard; the SoS designed ballot applications for use by both Independent and Write-in Presidential candidates which contain self-affirmations that, under the pains and penalties of perjury, the candidates are Constitutionally eligible for the job. (We found these by searching the SoS’s official web site, http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/index.shtml)
True, a self-affirmation is arguably not as foolproof a method of establishing the candidate is federally qualified as, say, requiring the candidate to authorize a birth certificate to be generated by the issuing authority and delivered directly to the state official. HOW to WRITE SMART CANDIDATE ELIGIBILITY LAWS in your STATE (and make applying to get on the ballot harder than applying to get into Harvard) But at least one might expect that, like in the case of the witness testifying in open court under the pains and penalties of perjury; the self-declaring candidate is more likely than not to be telling the truth.
In TX, Presidential candidates from each of the two the major political parties must apply to the party chair to get onto the Presidential preference primary ballot, using the individualized application forms designed by each party. The chair determines which names to forward to the SoS, who merely prints the names thus supplied.
The forwarding of names of Presidential candidates from the major political parties, to the SoS; is done through an electronic submission of data, using Excel-like spread sheets the Secretary designed. This format limits the information the parties are able to transmit to little more than the candidate’s name, address, and date of birth. BALLOT ENTITLEMENT LAWS should DISQUALIFY PRESIDENT OBAMA in TEXAS. This means that, with respect to the names of the Presidential candidates which are submitted to the SoS by the major political parties; the Secretary never sees the candidates’ actual ballot applications. By thus limiting any opportunity for the political party to transmit documentation which might have resulted in a federal eligibility determination; the SoS is merely assuming the political party has determined their candidates are federally qualified for the job. Indeed, whenever Texans asked the SoS on what documentary basis her office ascertained the Presidential candidates from the major political parties were federally qualified for office before she certified these names to the ballot; they were always referred back to the political party.
In other words, the SoS makes Independent and Write-In Presidential candidates ‘prove’ they are federally qualified for office before allowing their names to be printed on the general election ballot, consistent with the law. But when it comes to establishing that the Presidential candidates from the major political parties are federally qualified for office and thus have earned the statutory entitlement to appear on the ballot; the SoS takes the party chairs at their ‘implied’ word.
(Note that §192.031 refers to being “federally qualified” as necessary to achieve entitlement to appear on the general election ballot. There is no corresponding statute with respect to the primary ballot. However, as individual candidates must apply directly to state political party chairs to get on the primary ballot in TX; this represents the only opportunity for these chairs to establish whether the candidates are federally qualified for the job.)
TX has an extremely powerful public information law (“the Act”). Here is the opening section.
Sec. 552.001. POLICY; CONSTRUCTION. (a) Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to implement this policy.
(b) This chapter shall be liberally construed in favor of granting a request for information.
Using the Act; TX citizen activist Kelly Canon was able to obtain from the SoS documents such as the electronic transmittal forms they had received from the political parties. However, recall that neither the Republican Party of Texas (“RPT”) nor the Texas Democratic Party (“TDP”) is required to submit to the SoS either the actual primary ballot applications submitted to them by the Presidential candidates; or any other ‘evidence’ of the candidates’ federal qualifications. As a result, Ms. Canon could not obtain these documents by submitting a request under the Act, to the SoS. However, the Act equally applies to enumerated documents generated by political parties. http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/EL/pdf/EL.161.pdf Further, under §552.321 of the Act, production of documents requested can be compelled by the courts in an action in mandamus, initiated either by the AG or the aggrieved citizen. Id. So, in order to obtain any documentation held by the political parties with respect to their candidates’ federal qualification; pursuant to the Act, Ms. Canon sent letters to both the RPT and the TDP specifically requesting “any and all documents which were the basis for your certification to the TXSoS that these candidates are federally qualified for the job.” (Identical letters were sent to both political .parties; here is the letter sent to the TDP.)
Here’s what she got back from the RPT.
As you can see; just like the SoS, the RPT also interpreted the TX ballot entitlement statute to mean, their Presidential candidate must be federally qualified in order to appear on the ballot. And, just like the SoS, they designed a primary ballot application which contains the same self-affirmation found in the SoS’s applications for Independent and Write-In candidates to appear on the general election ballot.
Recall that, ballot applications from both Independent and Write-In Presidential candidates, which contain the self-affirmation of federal eligibility; are submitted directly to the SoS. True, swearing to the chair of a major political party that you are a federally qualified Presidential candidate is technically not the same thing as swearing directly to the SoS. However, in TX, this represents a distinction without a seminal difference. Because when the political party chair is acting like a state official, for example, when s/he is determining which candidates’ names will be forwarded to the SoS to appear on the ballot; then, under TX perjury laws, the penalty for lying is the same! Id.
On the other hand; all Canon got from the TDP was a ballot application that contained neither any language of Constitutional eligibility nor any self-affirmation the candidate is federally qualified for the job!
Obviously, this is not at all what she asked for.
Thus, having refused (for whatever reason) to provide the requested documentation; the TDP violated the Act. And recall that, under §552.321 of the Act, production of documents requested can be compelled by the courts in an action in mandamus, initiated either by the AG or the aggrieved citizen. Id. Consequently, exercising the protocol spelled out in the Act, on June 13, Ms. Canon filed a complaint with AG Abbott against the TDP.
AG Abbott published the Public Information 2012 Handbook. This letter to “Fellow Texans” appears on the first page:
Dear Fellow Texans:
James Madison once wrote, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” The best way for the people to arm themselves with that knowledge is for government to maintain openness in its dealings. Texas places a high priority on government openness, and the Public Information Act (PIA) is the primary law that requires it.
At the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), we are dedicated to helping citizens and public officials understand their rights and obligations under Texas open government laws. To that end, we publish the Public Information Handbook. This comprehensive resource explains the history of the PIA and includes such topics as how to make an open records request, what types of information are subject to such requests, and the consequences of a governmental body’s noncompliance. The 2012 edition also reflects PIA changes that were made by the 82nd Legislature.
Other open government resources are available on the OAG website at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov. These resources include frequently asked questions; a library of open records decisions dating back more than 30 years; and a public information cost estimate model, which assists governmental bodies in determining the cost of a public information request. Texans can also call our open government telephone hotline (877-OPEN-TEX) with their questions.
Thanks to Madison and the rest of America’s founders, this nation was established upon the principle of self-governance. We are heirs to that legacy. I hope this Public Information Handbook assists you in ensuring that Texas government remains accountable to the people it serves.
Attorney General of Texas
Given the commitment memorialized in this handbook, to the principle that “government remains accountable to the people it serves”; will TX AG Abbott now prosecute the TDP for violating the TX Public Information Act?
Please support the work going on here at “jbjd.”