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Analysis: Lots of Traps on Primary Election Ballots

If you believe that some voters rely on hunches, faulty memories and other hocus-pocus, then little things — quirky names and whatnot — could make all the difference.

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This year’s Texas primary ballots offer plenty of pitfalls for inattentive voters.

As a result, some of the unlikeliest candidates lurking below the presidential races on ballots might be taking their oaths of office in a little less than a year.

That’s especially true in the so-called low-information contests, where voters know a little bit less about the candidates and pay a little less attention to the difference between familiar names and those that just sound familiar.

Two Christians want to regulate oil and gas, along with a few others who adhere to the Christian faith but don’t carry that last name. Wayne Christian, who was in the Republican primary for a seat on the commission in 2014, is among the seven candidates in that primary this year. So is the lesser-known Lance Christian.

The name thing isn’t limited to that; in one of three races for the Texas Supreme Court, former state Rep. Rick Green is challenging incumbent Justice Paul Green for a six-year term. And while the Green Party’s candidates are not yet nominated, they might add to the muddle.

The ballot is full of rematches and things that look like rematches, incumbents, and names that sound like incumbents’. You’ll find a Ray Hall in the Republican race for the state’s 4th Congressional District. He might benefit from the 34-year tenure of Ralph Hall, defeated in the same primary and sent home two years ago. Can voters used to casting ballots for a Hall tell one Hall from another?

In the adjacent 3rd Congressional District, challengers are trying to do to Sam Johnson what John Ratcliffe did to Hall two years ago — knock off a long-time incumbent who is getting on in years. This sort of political grave-dancing is not unusual; the idea is that the challenger either wins or makes their name known for a later election — after the incumbent quits. Or dies. It’s worth saying that the strategy fails more often than not. How strong is redistricting? That is really a question for the general election in November, but here’s a taste: Only one of the state’s 36 congressional districts can really be called a swing district.

In the state House, six Democratic districts could easily switch to the Republicans, and four of the Republican districts could easily go for a Democrat. The key word there is “easily,” and those assessments are based on the results, by district, in each of the state’s last two elections. That said, the political maps drawn by lawmakers and the courts effectively protect the interests of incumbents and parties and limit voters’ ability to make their own choices about who represents them.

Joe Pool Jr. — whose dad was a congressman for whom a North Texas lake is named — is challenging Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. If their names are only dimly known to voters, as is common in statewide judicial races, this one will test two bits of conventional wisdom. Do women outperform men on ballots? Do Texas Republicans favor Anglicized names over Hispanic names?

One Democratic Senate primary in San Antonio features an incumbent, Carlos Uresti, being challenged by Helen Madla, the widow of the senator Uresti defeated in a primary in 2006.

Many of those races probably will turn on campaign events and issues and the expertise of the candidates and their crews. But some might just fall victim to caprice.

If you believe voters know everything they need to know about every race in which they cast their votes, there is nothing to worry about. If you believe, on the other hand, that some voters rely on hunches, faulty memories and other hocus-pocus, then little things — names and whatnot — could make all the difference.

Not all Christians are the same. Or Greens.

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2016 elections