.01.67 r r T The Legislature Far-Reaching Changes Proposed For the State Election Code Austin The state election code is under study in the current legislature. Changes being considered are those recommended by an election law study committee which, in 1966, worked up a 281-page book of proposed alterations. If enacted, the changes would provide some basic new directions in Texas voting. Consider some of the proposals: Presently a voter, if challenged by an election judge, must execute an oath that he has not been furnished, to take into the voting booth, a sample ballot or other list of candidates. The voter is not given a ballot unless he so swears or surrenders any such list. It is now proposed that a voter, if challenged, swear that he has no list in his possession. He wouldn’t be given a ballot until he surrenders any such list. This raises the question of what happens if a judge believes a voter is swearing falsely that he has no list on him? Can such a judge search a voter to satisfy himself on this point? Otherwise, how could it be proven satisfactorily whether a voter does or does not have a list with him? Is it wrong to carry lists into the voting booth? Electioneering would banned within 200 feet of voting places, if the new law passes; at present the limit is 100 feet. Several legislators have raised the point that such increased limit would work against the candidates who can’t afford billboards and TV advertising and would, therefore, be interested in passing out cards and handbills at the polls. A 200foot limit would put campaign workers, in many instances, a block down the street from the polls; many voters would be missed. The absentee voting time would be reduced from 20 to 15 days, since most persons who vote absentee, it is said, vote during the last week. But the only effect of reducing the voting period, it is contended, would be to cut voter participation. A voter who discovers, on election day, that he has lost his registration certificate would not, as at present, be able to execute an affidavit at the polls that he is a registered voter. He would have to go to the courthouse and get a duplicate registration certificate. In bond elections a voter would have to sign an oath stating that he owns taxable property, “giving a specific description thereof.” How specific must 8 The Texas Observer the description be? The lower the educational level of a voter, it is argued, the less likely he will be able to “specifically describe” his property. Backers of this change say that the full legal description would not be required, merely some statement to give a reasonable idea of what property the voter pays taxes, on. Write-in voting would be prohibited in the primaries; at present write-ins are but not in any resulting runoffs. Another proposed change would provide state senatorial district conventions to follow county conventions in counties where there is more than one senatorial district. Also proposed is that delegates chosen at precinct conventions to represent the precinct at either a county or a senatorial district convention “shall cast the number of votes equal to the full delegate strength of the precinct” regardless of the number of delegates who actually attend. To some legislators, this sounds like the unit rule is being required for county or district conventions. The proposed registration procedure would require voters to personally appear the first time they register at, in rftost cases, the courthouse. Thereafter, a voter would re-register by mail each year, unless during one year he had failed to re-register, in which case he would again appear at the courthouse. A signature-matching procedure would be instituted; election officials would compare the signature of a person appearing at the polls with that on a permanent file. The recommendations of the election law study committee are embodied in bills being carried by Sen. Tom Creighton, Mineral Wells, and Rep. Gene Fondren. There are a few other bills that have been introduced by others, but it is generally recognized that the Creighton-Fondren bills will be the ones the legislature will pass. Thus, any legislators concerned about the election code are devot. ing most of their attentions in this field to those bills. Bates and the Park Sen. Jim Bates, Edinburg, launched another assault on the LBJ State Park fund raising. Bates had been considering another statement voicing his concern about the matter for some time. He repeated some of the questions he first raised last and called for a Senate investigation. Basically, Bates is worried that the Park and Wildlife Commissioners, who were, until recently, also the men in charge of raising money for the fund, were pressuring contributions from persons who might find it awkward not to chip in. John Ben Sheppard, former attorney general, was put in charge of the fund in January, or, as Bates put it in his colorfully-worded statement, “was picked as the commission’s ‘fall guy.’ ” On taking the job, Bates went on, Sheppard said he would reveal the names of contributors, but has not yet done so. Bates thinks it significant that A. W. Moursund, an intimate of the President’s, was not reappointed to the Park Board in February. Bates, noting that Moursund had served only one term, said “It does seem unusual that great public service for one term should have been rewarded in some small way.” The Edinburg Senator quoted Will Odom, park board chairman, as saying that “We have not asked any firm under our regulation for a donation and would not accept it if it were offered.” Bates responded to this by saying “Let me have the deposit slips [for four hours] showing where the funds were deposited . . and I feel that we could firmly and finally answer that question. I mean,” he said, “the bank deposit slips from all the contributions from all the banks where they were deposited, and this during banking hours, so that comparisons can be made. I learned during the time I was district attorney how to do this, so that you need have no fear of my ability. I’ve even learned some things from several bank embezzlers I’ve represented since I was district attorney.” Bates then introduced a resolution calling for the Senate to consider his resolution that would establish the investigating committee two weeks later, on April 18. This was defeated by an 18-8 vote. Voting with Bates were Criss Cole, Barbara Jordan, Chet Brooks, and Henry Grover, all of Houston, Roy Harrington of Port Arthur, Oscar Mauzy of Dallas, and Joe Bernal of San Antonio. The resolution was sent to the rules committee, most of whose members are opposed to Bates’ proposal. Bates, earlier in the day, had been seen chatting affably with Sen. Wayne Connally, Floresville, the governor’s brother, and Secy. of State John Hill, another gubernatorial associate. The governor has said he believes the contributions should be made public. Meanwhile, Sheppard has mailed out
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