For the first time in 35 years, Travis County voters will elect a new county clerk, following Dana DeBeauvoir's retirement this year. Her successor will assume leadership of an office that's been nationally recognized as an unwavering defender of voting rights in a state where those rights are constantly being suppressed by its GOP rulers. Vying for the opportunity to build on that legacy are Dyana Limon-Mercado, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes executive director and former chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, and Kurt Lockhart, public policy professional and political newcomer.
In the wake of the "election integrity" legislation that, after 10 months of wrangling and walkouts, finally became law earlier this year, Limon-Mercado and Lockhart agree on expanding access to the polls as a top priority. Both advocate for more polling locations and keeping polls open until 10pm, which ironically the new law allows, even as it sought to quash pandemic-prompted efforts in Travis and Harris counties to make it easier for everyone to vote, such as drive-through mail-ballot drop-offs and early voting locations open 24/7.
Limon-Mercado, who's been with PPTV as executive director since 2019, argues that her experience there and with the party makes her the more prepared candidate to defend Travis County voters' rights against GOP attack. The clerk's office "is going to have to be creative and innovative and strategic because voter suppression threats from the state are going to continue to come," she told the Chronicle. "Whether it's happening in Harris County or Travis County, preemption is always a real threat from the state, so the charge to us is to do the things that we can confidently do now that we think will create more access and won't be quickly preempted."
The clerk's office has struggled in recent election cycles to recruit poll workers – paid positions, though the Travis County Commissioners Court only recently increased the wage to $15-17 per hour. Lockhart, who's been a poll worker, says fair compensation coupled with recruitment and retention is key. "How do we leverage all the young people who want to get involved? There's a student election clerk program that can drastically increase the number of 16- and 17-year-olds who are helping out at the polls," Lockhart told us. "Other counties have portals where you can schedule in advance to work [an] election, and that helps folks stay part of that community."
One of Lockhart's campaign initiatives is to develop a countywide elections app, as Galveston and El Paso have done. "Having an app that sends notifications will be a huge step forward, and it's something that's very concrete and achievable" to prompt increased turnout, he says. While Limon-Mercado is "not opposed to a mobile app," she thinks it would "mostly appeal to people who are already engaged. ... I think the charge here really is how we can develop a local culture of voting, beyond just the logistics of voting, the polling place, and voting hours."
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