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Other jurisdictions anxiously await Austin’s final decision on May elections

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Officials in local jurisdictions are scrambling to make a decision on when they will hold elections in light of the Austin City Council’s vote to maintain May elections.


While last week’s 4-3 Council vote was enough to pass the issue on first reading, the tight timeline has other county jurisdictions and county administrators proceeding with the assumption that the city’s elections will be held in May.


When asked if the smaller jurisdictions could count on the city holding their election in May, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir paused for a long time.


“I think so,” said DeBeauvoir, finally. “They voted, and it was a close vote, but they have voted. They will be voting on this on October 6. I suppose in some possible world, they could change their minds. I haven’t seen any information about that, but I also don’t want to stand up here and say absolutely…They want to do May at this point in time. I think that’s all I can represent to you.”


While the city’s cost of holding an election in May is unknown, the estimates are much greater in the scenario where they go it alone, versus the cost if they partner with one or two of the larger jurisdictions in the area, Austin Independent School District or Austin Community College.


Yesterday afternoon, the office of the Travis County Clerk held a meeting for all the jurisdictions voting in the county to discuss their options in the wake of City Council’s decision to continue holding elections in May.


ACC Election Administrator Linda Young  told In Fact Daily that while ACC’s Board of Trustees have the election date on the agenda for October 3 (three days ahead of City Council’s second vote), she could not be sure that there would be a definitive decision on that day.


“I don’t know that I guess which way it will go. I do think the City of Austin deciding might be something that will be impacting their decision,” said Young.


“The cost between May and November for us, it’s really not that different. What would be the difference would be if fewer entities share election costs at any one time. What is most advantageous for everyone is if we all decide to have the election at the same time so that there are more partners to divide the election costs among them.”


AISD’s general counsel, Mel Waxler expressed similar sentiments to In Fact Daily, saying, “Obviously, we’re not interested in our taxpayers having to pay any dollar more on an election…The city has been helpful in at least making that first move, assuming it sticks.”


Waxler also noted that, as AISD’s elections are currently held in May of even years, “there’s no pressure on the board to take any action, really.”


For the smaller jurisdictions, the monetary difference between the dates is trivial. They are subject to a fee, which would run them $1650 in November or $1675 in May. However, the county won’t be able to have voting centers in the spring.


The county, stretched thin, will be unable to have laptops on site at the precincts in May. They will be using paper voter lists, which preclude the more flexible voting centers that the county will use in November. Voting centers have the advantage of being able to accept votes from any qualified voter, ensuring no one will be turned away for not identifying their correct polling location.


DeBeauvoir asked the smaller jurisdictions get back to the county as soon as possible with “an indication” of when they will be holding their elections. She then held a closed-door work session with the city, ACC, and AISD to discuss their options.


At the public meeting, DeBeauvoir explained that, at this point, if one of the larger jurisdictions were to hold their election in November, it would raise the possibility of a sixth election in one year. She stated that her organization was prepared to hold five.


“Maybe a sixth election is a bit much for us? Maybe you can give us a little bit of break?” said DeBeauvoir.

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