The Austin Chronicle

TDH: 6/2/11

By Wells Dunbar, June 2, 2011, 10:05am, Newsdesk

It's slow going at City Hall. No City Council meeting, and a Public Health committee meeting on nonprofits has been postponed to next week. It's worth looking outside City Hall for action – and luckily, action obliged, as a state senate bill looks to throw local elections into chaos.

S.B. 100 from San Antonio Dem Leticia Van de Putte, brings the state in line with federal law requiring federal ballots be delivered to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before the election. It preserves Texas' current March primary date, while lengthening any primary run-off by the 45 day requirement, to the fourth Tuesday in May.

Here's where things get wonky for the city; we'll let our friends at the Texas Municipal League take it from here:

… The committee substitute that was voted out of the Senate Committee on State Affairs eliminated the May uniform election date in even-numbered years (the second Saturday in May).  The reason provided for the elimination of the May election date in even-numbered years is that county elections officials would be unable to adequately prepare the electronic voting machines shared with or leased to cities, school districts, and special districts on the May election date in even-numbered years because of the proximity to the new primary runoff election date.  The practical effect of eliminating one May uniform date would be to move most city elections to the November uniform election date. 

An amendment was offered and accepted on the Senate floor which could preserve the May uniform date in even-numbered years for some cities. The amendment would expressly allow cities and other political subdivisions to continue to have the option of using the May uniform election date in even-numbered years.  But the amendment also provides that a county elections administrator is not required to enter into a contract with a city to furnish election services on the May uniform election date in even-numbered years. 

What would the ultimate passage of S.B. 100 – in its current form – mean for Texas cities?  If a city currently holds its elections in May, and contracts with the county to provide voting machines, the amendment still may not save the May uniform election date in even-numbered years.  A county elections administrator who finds the task of reprogramming and calibrating electronic voting machines in the spring of even-numbered years too onerous may refuse to provide machines or otherwise assist with the city election on that date.  Realistically, this means that many cities may still have to move their elections to the November date under the amended version of S.B. 100. [emphasis added]

And note that the above was written before SB 100 passed. Now it's awaiting Gov. Rick Perry's signature.

And also note that Austin has an election coming up in 2012, for mayor and three council seats (Places 2, 5 & 6). Mayor Lee Leffingwell has already told In Fact Daily, should the bill be signed into law, “ ... As I understand it now, it seems highly unlikely that the city would have an election in May 2012.”

That said, a November election date does square with Leffingwell's own call for election reform. But like his call for single-member districts, it seems an item he'd rather have the city adopt itself, rather than imposed by fiat.

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