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Confused by the Texas Primaries? This Happy Hour Offers Sample Ballots and Explainers

Voting in off-year elections isn't always so straightforward. Ballots & Booze will make things easier by breaking down the ballot at Mac's Southside, where you're encouraged to sip a few while you become a more informed voter.
Voting in off-year elections isn't always so straightforward. Ballots & Booze will make things easier by breaking down the ballot at Mac's Southside, where you're encouraged to sip a few while you become a more informed voter.
Alison McLean
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Ever since early voting for the Texas primary election started on Feb. 20, you've likely spotted two types of Facebook posts: photos of proud people sporting "I voted" stickers and people openly wondering what the hell they're voting for, anyway. If you fall into the latter category, there's nothing to be ashamed of — some races aren't as straightforward as, say, voting for the leader of the free world, and sometimes, it helps to have someone in the know break it down a little.

A new local organization called Ballots & Booze aims to educate voters about what’s on the ballot "in a casual and fun environment using peer-to-peer conversation as the primary tool," according to its Facebook page. The group is hosting its second event from 5:30-9 p.m. at Mac's Southside in the Cedars, where you can have a beer or two while getting educated.

Here's how the free event works: Upon arriving, you'll fill out a name tag, share your address and get a sample ballot specific to your precinct. Sidle up to the bar for a drink (and get $2 off any Texas booze, too), then walk around to different tables to learn about everything on the ballot. As you learn what's happening and chat with other drinkers about your options, you can fill out the sample ballot to take with you when you hit the polls. Organizers will also have voter guides and can fill you in on your nearest early voting location.

"Every time I'm in a voting booth, I feel like I'm an informed voter, and I get into the booth and I realize I'm informed in the up-ballot races — I know who I want to vote for governor, for senator — and then I get to the judges ... and other down-ballot items, and I just freeze," says Mita Havlick, one of Ballots & Booze's founders.

Frustrated by feeling as if she'd voted blindly on issues or candidates she didn't fully understand, Havlick — who ran for the Dallas school board in 2016 and was no stranger to political action — decided to throw a dinner party and invite knowledgeable people who could speak to down-ballot candidates. Soon, the event got bigger than a dinner party, and Ballots & Booze hosted its first event at Halcyon on Greenville Avenue last week. More than 70 people showed up, Havlick says.

"It was great. We got a lot of positive feedback, mostly, 'Thank you for helping me figure this out,'" Havlick said. The group is hosting one more event tonight before the primaries and plans to host similar events for future elections. For this election, the group has been encouraging early voting.

"The objective is that by the time you leave — have a couple drinks, socialize — your ballot is complete," Havlick says. Along with a completed sample ballot, you'll leave with a voter planning sheet that includes your precinct info, the address where you're voting and what forms of ID you'll need.

"We definitely want to continue to do this before primaries ... but this could grow organically," Havlick says. "There's school board elections, there's municipal elections. I get sad after every election because there's such low voter turnout — 6 percent, 7 percent. Our goal is to get people to vote and be educated in terms of who they want to vote for."

Ballots & Booze had both Republican and Democrat ballots at the first event, and while the crowd mostly skewed Democrat, Havlick says people stayed neutral and respectful in their behavior.

"This is a nonpartisan voter initiative," she says.

Early voting ends Friday, March 2, and election day is Tuesday, March 6. If you haven't registered to vote in the primaries, you missed the boat (the deadline to register was Feb. 5), but that doesn't mean you can't still get a head start for the next election. Ballots & Booze will have volunteer deputy registrars on hand to get you registered.

Mac's Southside, 1701 S. Lamar St.

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