The 2019 State Bar Elections—Will the Upward Voting Trend Continue?
The race for 2019-2020 president-elect is taking shape. On September
28, the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors voted to approve the
Nominations and Elections Subcommittee recommendation of Jeanne Cezanne
“Cezy” Collins, of El Paso, and Larry P. McDougal Sr., of Richmond, as
candidates for 2019-2020 State Bar president-elect.
The past two election cycles have been record setting. Important to note, however, is that these past two elections have involved candidates from only three “voter-enriched” counties—Dallas, Harris, and Travis.1 It remains to be seen what will happen in a “small county” year.2
Collins and McDougal will be on the ballot in April 2019 along with any certified petition candidates for president-elect. Potential petition candidates could begin collecting petition signatures on September 1. The deadline to submit their nominating petitions for certification is March 1, 2019. For information on how to run for president-elect, go to texasbar.com/election.
Candidates for this election will benefit from the recent changes to the board of directors’ policy manual that embraced First Amendment “free speech” rights allowing candidates for president-elect and district directors to campaign as they see fit. Previously, campaign activities were greatly restricted and limited how and when candidates could campaign through in-person contacts, mailings, and online communications, including social media. All that has changed!
These policies were suspended for the 2018 president-elect campaign between Lisa Blue and Randy Sorrels and later removed from the policy manual. I supported these changes and commend the board for taking steps to ensure candidates’ free speech rights in all campaign activities.
Now, State Bar candidates are simply asked to campaign in a professional manner, to avoid irrelevant personal attacks, and to comport themselves in the spirit of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed. These are suggested guidelines—not rules, with spending limits being “aspirational”—and consequently, not limited.
The Texas Young Lawyers Association leadership is using the State Bar’s updated election guidelines as a road map as they update their own election policies. Any changes to the TYLA bylaws or policy manual are being closely monitored to ensure that they too will embrace free speech rights and promote open and fair elections within the State Bar.
One requirement in the State Bar Act is the need for petition candidates to gather the signatures of at least 5 percent of active members within 180 days—beginning September 1 in the year preceding the election—to appear on the ballot. Last year, I encouraged the State Bar Board to consider taking steps to reduce this requirement in order to increase participation in elections.3
My experience has been that the presence of a petition candidate tends to excite the electorate and increase voter turnout. For example, 32,643 votes were cast in the 2018 president-elect race between Lisa Blue and Randy Sorrels—the highest total of votes ever cast in a State Bar election. Both Blue and Sorrels started out as petition candidates before being nominated by the board.
The prior record for most total votes (30,250) in a State Bar of Texas election was set in the 2017 runoff election, when I became the first petition candidate to ever win the office of president-elect.
This trend of higher voter turnout—with greater free speech guiding the discussion of the issues—is encouraging. Voting is good and results in a stronger State Bar. Let’s keep it going in 2019 and beyond.
Joe K. Longley
State Bar President