Reds and Blues

By: Cynthia Orozco

Type: General Entry

Published: June 1, 1995

Colorados y Azules ("Reds and Blues") was a color classification system used to designate political parties in South Texas to assist illiterate or Spanish-speaking voters to use English-language ballots from the 1870s to around 1920. The system was associated with boss rule. Stephen Powers and James G. Browne organized the Democrats into the Blue Club, possibly a social club at first, in Cameron County in 1873. At the time, before the direct-primary system was instituted in 1902, elections involved considerable popular participation, with parades, bands, and dances. The Blue Club had 100 members, both Hispanic and Anglo. Responding to the Blues, Republicans formed the Red Club in the same county. Similar groups were formed in other South Texas counties. The Blues' success at the polls largely depended on voters of Mexican origin, who constituted the majority. These voters included Mexican Americans, Mexicans living in Texas, and Mexicans living across the border. Voters were assembled in an open area or business, typically the day before the election. They were often given barbecue and liquor, as well as cash. In Kenedy, workers received ice cream. Dances were also held to woo voters, who, once assembled, were "taught" how to vote and, after 1902, handed poll-tax receipts. Transportation to and from the polls, often from ranches and farms, was provided. Under Texas law a male alien could vote by declaring his intent to become a citizen. In border counties Mexicans were brought in by the hundreds from Mexico and taken to the county clerk, to whom they declared intent to become United States citizens; they then proceeded to vote. Citizens of Mexico voted in Texas elections until 1927. County election officials prepared distinctive colored ballots, and voters chose a ballot by its color-i.e., red for Republican and blue for Democrat (in some counties the colors were reversed). Voters were assisted by interpreters and party officials, often one and the same. When illiterate voters stated a preference for an independent candidate, officials did not ask if this meant an unaffiliated candidate or the party called Independent, but typically "voted" the ballot themselves. In general, party officials controlled ballot boxes at precincts and determined election results.

Evan Anders, Boss Rule in South Texas: The Progressive Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982). Edgar G. Shelton, Jr., Political Conditions among Texas Mexicans along the Rio Grande (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1946; San Francisco: R&E Research Associates, 1974). James Heaven Thompson, A Nineteenth Century History of Cameron County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1965).

Time Periods:

  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Cynthia Orozco, “Reds and Blues,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 21, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995