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Tuesday, November 29, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Politics, money at play even in polling places

The Dec. 13 runoff between incumbent City Council Member Sheri Gallo and challenger Alison Alter will cost the city about $470,000, according to City Clerk Jannette Goodall.

That amount accounts for about 50 percent of the cost of the joint city/Austin Community College runoff. Travis County is running the elections, so Goodall must work with ACC as well as with the Travis County Clerk’s Elections Division.

During last week’s special called Council meeting to canvas the Nov. 8 election and authorize the runoff, Goodall described her efforts to ensure availability of as many early voting and election day voting sites as possible.

Historically, ACC has paid more for elections because it has a larger territory, and the cost of a runoff was calculated based on the size of the territory and the number of potential voters.

“So ACC was going to be picking up between 75 and 80 percent of the cost because of the size” of the territory, Goodall said. However, the college “expressed a severe fiscal impact to the organization. … So we negotiated that we would pick up an equal share of the cost in order to keep the early voting sites at the 18 that Travis County had identified and recommended” and approximately 100 sites for election day, she told Council.

ACC was not interested in having mobile sites, but because the city wanted to provide those locations, it is paying for them, which adds about $13,000 extra, Goodall told the Austin Monitor on Monday.

Early voting will run Dec. 1-9, three days fewer than the November election provided. However, election officials anticipate that turnout will not be more than 14 percent, compared to the 64 percent turnout in Travis County for the Nov. 8 presidential election.

The estimate of 14 percent is based on turnout from the 2014 December runoff. However, that number could be a little bit high because voters were selecting a new mayor in addition to several members for the first Council based on the district-based 10-1 system of representation.

District 10 currently has 66,460 registered voters, according to Amanda Katzer with Travis County’s voter registration office. More than 49,000 of those voters – 74 percent – cast ballots for president or some other office on Nov. 8. However, only 55 percent of the district’s voters cast ballots in the Council race. Nonetheless, that percentage is notably higher than in other districts with Council elections.

At last week’s meeting, Gallo asked her colleagues to amend their request for polling locations to include the Randalls flagship store on Bee Caves Road as well as the Cat Mountain Villas Homeowners Association and three elementary schools. Council agreed to do so, although Council Member Leslie Pool questioned whether Gallo was “picking and choosing” among the possible voting locations, presumably to give her voters more options than Alter’s.

Gallo replied that she was not, but later Council included language directing the clerk to try to get as many of the same election day locations as it had in November.

Alter sent Council an email stating that Gallo’s request left out Congregation Beth Israel, Alter’s home precinct, where she had her best showing. That location has now been added.

One of the most popular voting locations, the Ben Hur Shrine Temple, is not available this time because of a prior commitment, Goodall said.

Pool told the Monitor on Monday that the city clerk requested that Council “consider a multijurisdictional conversation about the issues that the different jurisdictions have encountered during this runoff. Then we can nail down the specifics so that we don’t have questions when these issues arise in the future. And I think that’s a great idea.”

Photo by Eric (HASH) Hersman made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

District 10: The district is roughly bounded by MoPac Boulevard on east, Lake Austin on the south, U.S. 183 on the north, and the boundary with District 6 on the west. It is a large district, at about 43 square miles.

Office of the Austin City Clerk: This city department provides access to city documents, ensuring compliance with records-retention laws, and facilitating City Council's legislative process.

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