Monday, June 6, 2011

Cities and School Boards Could Be Forced To Move Their Elections From May To November

Late in the regular 2011 82nd Texas legislative session, the Senate passed SB 100. The bill, originally submitted by Texas State Senator Van de Putte, brings Texas in compliance with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. The MOVE Act, passed by Congress in 2009, requires that vote by mail ballots for federal elections and local elections held in conjunction with federal elections must be available to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before each election day and run-off election day.

Election dates specified in the Texas election code did not allow 45 days between the dates candidates were qualified to be listed on primary election ballots and the uniform primary election dates. SB 100 adjusts legally prescribed primary election dates such that Texas comes into compliance with the MOVE Act.

SB 100 retains the first Tuesday in March in even-numbered years as the uniform primary election date, but shifts the primary candidate filing deadline date back from the first January business day of even-numbered primary years to mid-December. SB 100 also shifts the primary run-off election day date out from the second Tuesday in April to the fourth Tuesday in May. Other dates, such as the date each political party's County Executive Committee must meet to specify the order in which candidates will appear on party's primary ballot, are also adjusted by SB 100.

The particular challenge with SB 100 is that the new fourth Tuesday in May primary run-off uniform election date conflicts with the second Saturday in May uniform election date that many Texas cities and school boards long ago adopted for their local elections. County election officials will be unable to lease voting equipment and trained election workers to cities and school districts for the second Saturday in May election date in even-numbered years because of the proximity to the new primary runoff election date.

Van Taylor (Texas House District 66, Plano) submitted HB 111 to resolve this conflict by eliminating the second Saturday in May uniform election date in even-numbered years from the Texas election code. The practical effect of eliminating the second Saturday in May uniform date would have been to move most city and school board elections to the November uniform election date. HB111 ultimately failed and SB 100 preserves the second Saturday in May uniform election date for both odd and even numbered years. But, SB 100 also provides that county election administrators are no longer required to enter into contracts with cities and school districts to furnish election services.

Cities and school boards across Texas, including most cities and school boards in Collin Co., that currently contract with the county election office to conduct their May elections will find it necessary to either move their elections to the November uniform election date, with the appropriate adjustments to their terms of office, or purchase their own voting equipment and train their own election staff to conduct their own elections. The third alternative may be for cities and school boards to hold their May elections only in odd-number years so that they can contract election services from the county election office; this too would likely require some considerable revisions to city and school board terms of office.

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