Citizens’ participation in government is a major tenet of democracy. Citizens participate in governance through voting and ensuring that the government of the day is transparent and accountable. America, being the foremost democracy in contemporary times, has among the highest participation rates in the world. The rates are however lower than the national average in Texas State. Texans participation rate in voting is appallingly low. Champagne, Anthony, and Edward report that in 2006, less than thirty percent of Texans eligible to vote participated in a gubernatorial contest full of political heavy weights (32). The low participation rates in voting and other facets of governance results from domination of politics by conservative elites. These elites have thwarted reform progress. However, with concerted efforts from civil society and federal government, Texans participation rates will go up.
Historically, Texas has had a protracted battle to allow women and other minorities to vote. When Texas joined the Union in the 17th century, voting rights were limited to white adult men. Women’s suffrage social movement pressured the government to extend voting rights to women. The federal government yielded to women’s demand and in 1920, women enjoyed equal voting rights with men. However, ethnic minorities like African Americans and Hispanics remained passive observers in the electoral process. Whites dominated political and economic establishments and barred ethnic minorities from voting.
White conservative elites passed legislation requiring ethnic minorities to pay poll tax before they could participate in election. This tax served to disenfranchise African American and Hispanic voters who found the tax prohibitive. Hispanic voters who qualified to vote could only vote for candidates that their white bosses preferred. This led to a court battle that the Federal courts decided in favor of the ethnic minorities. The court ordered Texas government to withdraw white primary and poll tax as pre-qualifications to participation in voting. The white majority turned to other measures to reduce ethnic minorities’ participation in elections. Schmidt cites use of “at-large elections and racial gerrymandering of election district boundaries” (54) as some of the tactics that white majority employed to keep ethnic minorities from the ballot.
Today, Texans participate in politics and government through various ways. The first is through elections. To qualify to vote in Texas, one needs to have attained eighteen years, be a registered voter in the state and above all, be an American citizen. One can therefore participate in elections by voting or active engagement in campaigns. One can volunteer time, money, and services to an election campaign he or she deems worthwhile. More than elections, one can participate in politics through interest groups. These groups pressure the government to effect reforms for betterment of people’s lives. Additionally, one can participate in government and politics through demonstrations, lobbying the legislature, and sometimes through violent protests.
Schmidt argues that level of education, economic status, age, and strength of political parties influence participation rates in United States of America (54). Texas lags behind other states because of a combination of factors. A majority of Texans languishes in poverty and their education levels are lower in comparison to other states. Political consciousness is therefore low and hence the low participation rates. Champagne, Anthony, and Edward assert that states with “older, better-educated populations with relatively high incomes” will have higher rates of citizens’ participation in government. More than being politically conscious, educated people easily understand the complexity of the ballot process.
Another reason for low participation rates in Texas is the influx of immigrants. Illegal or not, most immigrants shy away from social services and political participation for fear of deportation. Furthermore, immigrants are not well versed in America’s electoral process. Citizens participate more in the political process when they have effective labor unions and similar affiliations. Texans lack such unions and mobilization to turn out to vote is usually uncoordinated.
Texas’ culture plays an important role in influencing participation in politics and governance. Texas is among the states that wanted to secede from the Union during the civil war. Racial segregation was more intense than in other states. There is a high population of immigrants and Mexican culture is more profound than in other states. The people are hostile to tax progression and thus the limited services from the state. Labor unions are uncommon and the culture of political parties is not as entrenched as it is in other states. Interest groups have therefore been useful in agitating for reforms in a largely conservative state. The interest groups have focused on women’s suffrage, voting rights for ethnic minorities, and improved participation in governance. ‘Getting involved’ interest group for instance educate and mobilize people to participate in politics.
In conclusion, Texas lags behind in political and governance participation because of low literacy levels, poverty, and influx of immigrants. The state has an anti-unions attitude that deprives citizens a very pertinent mobilization tool. The political culture that is a feature of other states is lacking in Texas. Looking ahead, interest groups can continue to lobby for legislations that reflect the diversity inherent in Texas.
Champagne, Anthony, and Edward J. Harpham. Governing Texas: An Introduction to Texas Politics, Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.
Schmidt, Steffen W. American Government & Politics Today: Texas Edition. Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.