The College Station City Council has been discussing the impact of a recently-enacted Texas law on our city elections. Their options are limited because of budget constraints, time frames and legal considerations, but they have expressed the desire to receive additional input from the public before making a decision. The council will have a second public hearing on this issue Monday, August 8 at 7 p.m. at city hall.
In June, Gov. Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 100 into law to bring the State of Texas into compliance with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE), which was enacted in 2009. The intent of the act was to make it easier for military and overseas voters to cast their ballots in a timely manner. The act requires that ballots be provided to these voters 45 days before the election date.
How does this affect College Station? Senate Bill 100 directly impacts primary election dates, which remain on the first Tuesday in March of even-numbered years. However, the primary runoff date will move from the second Tuesday in April to the fourth Tuesday in May. Our city elections are conducted the second Saturday in May, and early voting for the primary runoff would begin only two days after our election.
SB 100 provides that a county elections official is not required to enter into a contract to furnish election services for an election in May of even-numbered years. Due to overlapping election schedules as provided in SB 100, there is not enough time, equipment or personnel for Brazos County to accommodate us.
Where does this leave us?
We have three basic options:
- Purchase Our Own Equipment. The initial purchase of new equipment could exceed $400,000, which makes the first option unviable for a city that has trimmed $7 million from its budget in the last four years. Storage, maintenance and software fees would cost an additional $50,000 per year.
- Move Our City Elections to November. November elections are partisan and local issues could be lost in the media coverage surrounding state and federal races. City races also would be placed at the bottom of the ballot in those even-numbered years, which could result in a high percentage of undervotes as we saw in the last November election. If the city moves the election date to November, the terms of all current council members would be extended six months. If the terms are adjusted to four years, there would be no holdover for the Mayor or Place 2, but the remaining council members’ terms would be extended one year.
- Change Our Terms of Office to Even-Numbered Years. To legally change term lengths, the city would need a charter amendment election. The council is debating whether to have the election in November 2011 or November 2012. The Charter Review Commission has undertaken an extensive review of the entire charter and obviously needs more time to complete its mission in a responsible manner. Since ballot language must be submitted to the county by August 12, the commission would be able to submit one or two amendments for the November 2011 election. Unfortunately, the charter cannot legally be amended again for two more years, which would delay any additional amendments until November 2013.
At a public hearing on July 25, the Citizens’ Charter Review Advisory Commission recommended the city adopt four-year terms in May of odd-numbered years and to change the term limits to eight consecutive years. Staff recommends staying with three-year staggered terms and moving to the November uniform election date since this option is the easiest to implement with the least disruption to the political process. That option could be enacted through a simple council resolution without an election.
What do You Think?
The council looks forward to hearing your feedback on August 8.