Here in Texas, primary elections matter – and the May 22 runoff elections are the final opportunity for voters to weigh in.

Primary elections are when voters select the Republican and Democratic candidates who’ll run in the November general election. If no candidate in a particular March primary race gets more than 50 percent of the vote, then the top two go to a runoff that’s settled on May 22.

Let’s take a look at why it’s so important for Austin’s tech sector to make its voice heard in the runoffs.

Why do primaries matter so much?

In a word, gerrymandering – or drawing political boundaries to give an advantage to one party over the other.

The overwhelming majority of Texas districts are drawn to either be safely Republican or Democratic. This means that most Texas elections are determined in the primary. If you sit out the primary election, you’re sitting out the election that matters most. After all, candidates who win the primaries will drive the issues for the November election — and the state’s policy priorities for years to come.

The runoff elections are the last and best chance to impact the outcome of the primaries. So if you want Texas elected officials to care about issues relevant to you, then you must vote in the runoff elections – or you risk losing your voice to those who do.

Who votes in primary runoffs?

Fewer than 900,000 voters voted in the runoff during the last midterm primary elections in Texas . Check out the turnout figures from 2014:

Fewer than five percent of potential voters participated in the 2014 runoff elections. This means that 19 of 20 voters in Texas ceded the power of their vote to that one person who chose to vote.

But the power is in your hands – all you have to do is vote in the primary runoff elections so that candidates reflect your priorities, not someone else’s.

When and how do I vote in the primary runoff election?

Early voting for the May 22 primary runoff is from May 14-18, and Election Day is May 22.

The process is similar to a November general election: you must be registered to vote and show proper identification.

When you arrive at the polling location, you simply tell the polling volunteer which party’s primary – Republican or Democratic – you want to vote in this election. That’s all there is to it. You don’t need to register with a political party and you don’t need a political party ID card to vote in a primary election. You simply show up and say which primary you want to vote in.

How you make that decision is entirely up to you. You may care about a particular race or want to support a particular candidate. Or, you can choose to vote strategically and vote in the primary of the party you may not personally identify with. You alone get to make that choice.

There are only three rules to keep in mind:

  1. You can only vote in one party’s primary runoff.
  2. If you already voted in the March primary, you can only vote in the runoff election for that same party.
  3. If you didn’t vote in the March primary, you can vote in either runoff election.

Remember: you can still vote however you want in November. Your vote in the primary runoff doesn’t impact how you vote in the general election — you’ll get the same ballot as your neighbor, and you’re free to vote for whoever best represents your values. After all, your vote is needed in the general election, too: