The Salazar Doctrine
Maybe we should approach this biblically. In the book of Luke, we are told that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled in a census. Joseph, you may recall, went up from Galilee to the city of David, which was called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.
Perhaps it is in a similar vein that Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Steve Salazar thinks it appropriate for several generations of his own family to return every few years to his father's house in West Dallas in order to vote for him for city council, even though none of them lives there anymore.
"It's a family tradition," Salazar told me on the phone. "In Hispanic culture, it's a tradition for kids to want to come back and visit with their parents."
Visit, sure. But visit and vote?
Salazar said that his family members, like all voters, must and do follow certain rules. "Everyone only votes one time," he said. "And that's the crux. You can only vote one time."
Mmmm...I dunno. I thought there were more rules than that.
I have a big stack of registration applications on my desk filled out by members of Salazar's family, some of them as recently as this year, swearing that they all live in the little house at 3107 Parvia that belongs to Salazar's parents, Pedro and Catherine Salazar.
Just the other evening, I had a long, very nice chat in front of that house with Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Salazar's parents, who are lovely people, and they told me that, except for them, no one else lives there.
Let me tell you why I thought that might be a problem. On these registration documents I'm looking at, right by the signature, it says: "I understand that giving false information to procure a voter registration is perjury and a crime under state and federal law."
Salazar's mother, Mrs. Salazar, is a very sweet lady, and I don't think for a minute that she has any inkling that she or her family might be involved in violations of the law. She obviously has her own firm sense of the rules and assured me several times that none of the people I had asked her about were dead.
"They are all alive," she said proudly.
I hadn't actually asked. I was uncomfortable. I still wasn't sure we were totally copacetic on the election law.
State law seems to say two things quite clearly: 1) To register to vote, you have to give your residence address, if you have one, and 2) "A person commits an offense if the person knowingly makes a false statement or requests, commands or attempts to induce another person to make a false statement on a registration application."
The law seems to take this business of telling the truth on election-related documents fairly seriously. Just a few weeks ago, you may have read in the paper, a man named Thomas Edwin Wesson, who happens to be a political adversary of Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Salazar, was convicted of a criminal offense for having changed his name to Tomas Eduardo Wesson on his application for a place on the ballot.
If you stop to think about it, it seems obvious why addresses are so important. Every 10 years when the new census comes out, we go through a huge amount of sturm und drang, to say nothing of expense, drawing up new electoral districts--a process in which the ethnic content of each district is measured down to the city block and household. So why would we go through all of that expense and agony if voting in the end comes down to only three rules: 1) Only vote once, 2) Don't vote if you're dead, and 3) Otherwise just vote wherever the heck you feel like it.
There are things I could like about that scheme, by the way. If people could decide to vote wherever they want, we might begin to see some minority leadership in the Park Cities. Wouldn't that set tongues to clucking?
I wish I could tell you precisely where the Salazar family members listed as residing at 3107 Parvia actually do live. I did ask Salazar's parents. Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Salazar said they couldn't remember. Later, when I called Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Salazar and asked the same question, he said, "I don't know off-hand."
It's sort of a key point, because the election law has a fair amount of language in it about people who register to vote in one place and then go back and vote where they used to live. The Texas code provides that a person who registers and then moves may go back and vote in his old precinct. You get a grace period, "until the voter's registration becomes effective in the new precinct."
Oh, and the other thing: You only get to vote even that one time if you still live inside the boundaries of the governmental entity for which the election is being held. You can't move to Garland, for example, and then come back and vote in a Dallas election. Makes sense, eh?
I really wish either Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Salazar or his parents could remember where at least one of the rest of the family lives.
They're a heck of a bunch of voters. The computers at the Dallas County Elections Department only show voting histories back to 1988. In that time, for example, it shows that I have voted 23 times.
Pete Salazar Jr.--Steve Salazar's brother, according to the parents--has voted 29 times in that same period, all in precinct 3130 and its predecessor precinct, 3353, from the Parvia address of his parents. That's a commendable record of citizen involvement. I just wish to heck we could figure out where he lives.
Jesse Edward Garay, a nephew to the deputy mayor pro tem, according to the grandparents, has voted in 17 elections from the Parvia address--pretty good, seeing that he is only 28 years old.
Bianca Raquel Ojeda, a granddaughter, has already voted in three elections even though she won't turn 21 until June 14 of this year, all from 3107 Parvia.
A point that perhaps needs to be made somewhere in here is that having 13 voters registered at his mom and dad's house a block down the street from his own residence is no small advantage in Dallas City Council District 1, where voter turnout is often minuscule. Every election here is sort of a mini-Palm Beach: Each and every ballot is fought for and scrutinized every bit as bitterly as the votes they were hauling around Florida by armored car earlier this year.
In May 1997, for example, only 1,703 votes were cast in the city council race in District 1 in which Salazar was running for re-election. In order to avoid a runoff, Salazar had to capture more than 50 percent of the total. The cutoff was 851 votes. Salazar got 863 votes.
He avoided a runoff by 12 votes.
Not everybody listed at 3107 Parvia voted in that 1997 election. Several, for example, weren't old enough yet. I just wanted to point out how important each vote is in this particular district. One of Salazar's opponents in that race, by the way, was Tomas Eduardo Wesson, as I like to call him.
Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Salazar told me on the phone that he believes all voting residency requirements have been eliminated in the wake of the little-publicized court battle over the legal residence of vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney. You may or may not recall that three Dallas voters sued to block Cheney from changing his legal residence from Highland Park to somewhere in Wyoming a few days before he was named the Republican running mate. The 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has some complicated language in it that makes it disadvantageous for a political party to field two national candidates from the same state.
The question in the lawsuit was whether Cheney could simply switch his legal residence by declaration a few days before becoming a vice presidential contender. A federal court in Dallas, upheld by the appeals court, said sure.
I scoured and scoured the press and legal coverage on the Cheney thing, and I couldn't find a single syllable saying you can live in one place and vote in another. But Salazar insists he and his family are covered. "Should Dick Cheney be given a better privilege than people who live in a poorer section of Dallas?" he asks.
Of course, since the Cheney business just came up before the last election, it would only cover one of Steve Salazar Jr.'s 29 votes from 3107 Parvia.
There is a final issue here. On some of the registration applications I am looking at, Salazar himself is listed as the official agent who brought the application to the registrar for the voter. I mention this only because the law makes another key distinction: According to the Texas election code, if I go in and fill out a registration application for myself and in so doing make a false statement, I have committed a Class B misdemeanor offense. But the code says that if somebody else acts improperly as my agent in securing my registration, that person may be guilty of a third-degree felony.
Salazar said to me, "There is no intention on the part of anyone here to break the law. We just want to encourage people to vote."
Excellent point. Good citizenship begins at home. And sometimes it never leaves.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.