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."