Illustrated ballots, please

“I’m better-looking,” says Carlos Uresti, right, who is running in State Senate District 19. Brother Albert will also appear on the ballot in the hotly contested race for U.S. House District 23.
The Uresti clan bank on a surname, confusion, in Bonilla runoff

It was the year of ice-skater Nancy Kerrigan’s assaulted knee, Kurt Cobain’s suicide, Rwandan genocide, Whitewater investigations, the O.J. Simpson car chase, and, in an unparalleled sunny addendum to the 1994 almanac, South Africa’s first ever multiracial election.

And if there was ever an 18-by-7-and-three-quarter-of-an-inch symbol of the rocky road to democracy, it would have to be the rectangular paper that served as the Republic of South Africa’s ballot that year, which, to overcome 11 official languages and illiteracy rates of up to 50 percent in rural areas, displayed the photos of all 19 presidential candidates alongside their full-color party symbols. (You, too, can own this bit of memorabilia and celebrate the event that lifted Nelson Mandela to office after 340 years of white minority rule, for $30 U.S. from based in Connecticut, or at the mall in Johannesburg for $7 U.S.)

The end of apartheid and that country’s first free election echo America’s own efforts to end racial discrimination. Our ballot-box revolution began with the 15th Amendment in 1870 and gained teeth with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but does not belong exclusively in the history pages. Just this year, the Supreme Court invoked the act to declare our Congressional District 23 unconstitutional after Texas’s 2003 redistricting, because 100,000 Hispanic voters (with a propensity to vote for Democrats, conventional wisdom says) were cut out of Republican Henry Bonilla’s voter base. The map was redrawn in August, affecting five districts and leading to five special elections this November, including one for CD-23, featuring, among six Democratic political challengers, first-timer Albert Uresti.

And now for the Current’s case for candidate photos on U.S. ballots:

Albert Uresti is the oldest brother of eight; the youngest is current State Representative Carlos Uresti, who you’ll find running a little bit farther on down the ballot this November in his own non-redistricting-related special election; and even farther down still in a general election. That makes for three Uresti appearances, and not one picture to distinguish a one of them.

“I’m better-looking,” said C. Uresti, a trim 43-year-old (his older brother, A. Uresti, 51, looks more like Paul Sorvino); but what really makes C. Uresti the rock-star candidate of the two San Antonio residents comes down to resumé: A. Uresti spent 25 years fighting Bexar-County fires, then had a brief fling with a scandal-plagued Pearsall, Texas, as its city manager. Whereas C. Uresti has served nearly 10 years in office, and most recently seized the Democratic-primary endorsement from State Senate District 19 incumbent Frank Madla in a race most pundits didn’t expect Uresti to win. Madla resigned after the upset, leaving the state seat vacant. Old slow-to-arouse Governor Rick Perry called a special election for someone to warm the seat for two months until the winner of the general election takes over. C. Uresti is a shoo-in for both (and in a strange twist of fate, the Republican candidate he’s going to beat, Dick “Old Rooster” Bowen, once challenged Bonillla in the GOP primary for CD-23 and lost).

What works to the lesser-known Uresti’s advantage is that the current federal and state districts roughly mirror each other: State Senate 19 — at 55,000-square miles, the largest senatorial district in the nation — shares 16 counties with the redrawn Congressional District 23. That overlap, the family says, could send A. Uresti to a December runoff with Bonilla (if he comes in second and Bonilla can’t win more than 50 percent of the vote in November). Sure, “Uresti” is not the same ubiquitous family brand as “Bush” or “Clinton” or “Henry B.”, but C. Uresti already spent $1 million advertising the surname during the primary in the same area A. Uresti seeks to win. And considering the A. Uresti campaign has only $50,000 in commitments to date, the extra $250,000 his baby brother plans to spend over the next five weeks can only help. Already, any mention in the media of Albert’s campaign includes the tagline “the brother of Carlos Uresti.”

“We have a 10-month headstart ahead of the other candidates,” Carlos said of his brother’s race, admitting that in some ways, he see the campaigns as interchangeable. “It’s like two heads are better than one. It’s almost `like` being twins,” he said. “And Albert was my campaign manager. He set up my meetings, rallies, coordinated with elected officials. So now he’s making follow-up calls, so to speak … and now it’s a Democratic seat.”

Albert said that he is actually the better-looking bro, and that there is a ballot disadvantage in special elections: They are not affected by straight-ticket voting. “The main thing the voters have to remember is Uresti, Uresti, Uresti,” he said.

Then there’s an idea UT Austin professor of political behavior Bruce Buchanan will reluctantly say is possible: Voters might think they’re voting for the widely known and well-thought-of Carlos Uresti and end up pulling the lever for Albert mistakenly.

“I know they’re both in office. They’re twin brothers, right?” said Bobby Minten of Badlands Taxidermy in Hondo, one of the cities whose vote both Urestis are seeking, when the Current called to ask whether he knew the difference between the Urestis and the offices they seek. “Well, I vote a straight Republican ticket anyway. If he’s a Democrat, I just can’t do it.”

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