New State Law Could Change City Elections
How will Texas Senate Bill 100, which was signed into law in June by Gov. Rick Perry, affect College Station’s city elections? Monday’s regular city council meeting includes a public hearing on SB 100, and the council will consider all options. Citizens are encouraged to learn more about how the new law impacts our elections and to provide the council with input. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at city hall.
Effective Sept. 1, SB 100 was enacted to assure compliance with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act passed by Congress in 2009. The admirable goal of the MOVE Act is to make the voting process easier and faster for military and overseas voters. Absentee ballots must be transmitted at least 45 days before an election. The act applies to any election that includes a federal office or to fill a vacancy in the state legislature. It also applies to joint elections when a federal office is on the ballot.
The law’s impact on the entire election calendar is significant and can be somewhat confusing. Primary elections will remain on the first Tuesday in March, but the absentee ballot mandate moves the primary runoff to the fourth Tuesday in May – after the May uniform election date. The uniform election date in even-numbered years is limited to non-county elections, while the uniform date in odd-numbered years is unaffected.
The new law provides that county officials are not required to enter into contracts to furnish services for an election held the second Saturday in May in an even-numbered year. According to the Brazos County Clerk, due to the overlapping election schedules as provided in SB 100, there is not enough time, equipment, or personnel for the county to accommodate us. This will be the case every May in even-numbered years. Consequently, College Station has three basic options:
- Look elsewhere for electronic voting machines for May elections.
- Move city elections to November.
- Change the terms of office to two- or four-year staggered terms.
Unless the city opts to purchase its own election equipment, we will not have a municipal election in May 2012. The initial cost of election equipment is estimated to be around $400,000, which includes computer software, eSlate voting booths, disabled access units, judges’ booth controls, transportation and storage containers, and miscellaneous election supplies necessary to conduct elections. Annual storage, maintenance and software fees would be an additional $50,000.
Each of the city’s options has implications that include cost, length of holdover in the affected positions, legal interpretations and public desire. The specific options include:
- Staying with three-year staggered terms and moving the election to November.
- Changing to two-year terms and unstaggering them for May (odd-numbered years).
- Moving the election to November with staggered terms.
- Changing to four-year staggered terms in May or November (odd-numbered years).
Here is the PowerPoint presentation (no audio) I gave at the city council’s strategic workshop on July 12:
As the city council weighs these options Monday night, it’s important for College Station residents to make their voices heard. How we choose our leaders is one of the most important pillars of our society, and this council wants — and needs — to know what you think.