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Council voting today on election date question

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 by Jo Clifton

Citing a looming deadline for ordering voting equipment for a planned May Council election, Council members Laura Morrison and Bill Spelman have posted the item for action on today’s work session agenda. Council voted 4-3 on Sept. 22 to go forward with the May election.


If they approve the May election on second reading today, the majority will be able to finalize their action on Thursday. That would allow Travis County to tell the vendor, Hart InterCivic, to place an order for voting machines before the company’s October 15 deadline. Council is not scheduled to meet again until October 20.


“If our ability to vote on this is going to mean anything, then we need to be able to make a decision before Oct. 15,” Spelman said.


Spelman, Morrison, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, and Council Member Kathie Tovo voted for the May date, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council members Mike Martinez and Chris Riley dissenting. Without a supermajority of five votes, the measure needs to be passed on three separate readings.


Both Leffingwell and Morrison said they find the situation ironic, though for different reasons. Leffingwell said he finds it difficult to understand why the Council members who are often the most vocal in their support of a more public process in general would want to cut short the public-input process on when to hold the election.


“I really don’t think it’s the right thing to do in terms of limiting the public process, and that’s not what work sessions are for,” Leffingwell told In Fact Daily, pointing out that the item was only posted late in the day this past Friday. “Nobody knew. For a group that advocates more public process, here advocating for less public process … it’s hard to understand that someone would want to cut out the public process that way.”


Morrison, meanwhile, said that the real irony lies in the fact that Council voting on the measure would take the decision out of the hands of the public entirely.


“It is such as interesting ball that keeps getting bounced up in the air when we talk about this thing,” said Morrison. “There were suggestions that if you were supporting May versus a November election that you meant to suppress people’s voice and you were voting against a full public process. But really, I think that’s ironic because from my perspective making the decision to put it in November takes the decision out of the hands of the public. And I do think it’s a decision that should be carefully thought out and in the public’s hands.”

Morrison also noted that city staff had suggested putting the item on today’s work session agenda for the sake of efficiency. She said when they were planning for the vote last summer, staff picked the Sept. 22 date for the decision, not contemplating a 4-3 split in the vote.


Speaking of the public’s hands, yesterday Paul Saldaña led a gathering of Hispanic groups at a press conference at City Hall calling upon Council to move the election to November.


“Austin is home to nearly 120,000 eligible Hispanic voters,” Saldaña said in a press release, “and we firmly believe that the voice and votes of Hispanic voters in Austin should matter.”

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