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Texas Voters Visit Polls Twice in May

Published on April 29, 2012, by in General.

Texas holds non-partisan city elections on May 12, and then on May 29 holds its partisan primaries for all partisan office, including President. Having two separate kinds of election only 17 days apart has consequences that are explained in this article.

One Response

  1. Jim Riley

    The article is pretty wrong.

    Texas elections for statewide, congressional, legislature, judicial, and county elections are partisan, and occur every two years in November, and are conducted by the counties.

    There are party primaries in the spring, with the possibility of a runoff (a majority is required for nomination). The party primaries are conducted by the county political parties. In most cases, they use county voting equipment, and in some cases the counties actually conduct the elections, but this is done on a contract basis. Polling places can be in different locations, and even if in the same building, certainly in different rooms, and preferably with separate outside entrances. Since it is the party conducting the election, it would be impossible to have non-partisan elections. And primaries are conducted by the county party. Neither major party has a primary in each of the 254 counties.

    Minor parties nominate by convention during the same time frame.

    Local elections for cities, school districts, special districts are conducted by the entity themselves. They are held on a uniform election date, one in May (on a Saturday), the other on the general election day in November. They can occur in odd or even years, and some cities do have annual elections.

    The reason they are called “uniform” election dates is because all local entities must hold their elections on one of the dates. At one time, each entity could set its own election date. There used to be 4 uniform election dates, in February, May, August, and November. But since that didn’t provide much uniformity, so the February and August dates were eliminated. The uniform election dates are also used for (some) special elections. By default, if there is a legislative or congressional vacancy, the special election is held on the next uniform election date. Texas doesn’t use primaries for special elections, which are conducted as open primaries with a runoff, if necessary.

    Before this year, the (partisan) primary was in March, the primary runoff in April, and the uniform local election date was in May (incidentally on a Saturday).

    The federal government now requires ballots for all federal elections to be sent to overseas voters 45 days before election day. Given the need to canvass results and prepare ballots, this means a gap between the primary and runoff of at least 77 days. When they started adjusting the calendar, they realized this would put the runoff in the middle of the May uniform election date.

    The legislature originally was going to simply eliminate the May uniform election date in even years, and the bill simply said that local entities had to switch to November or to the odd years, and they could lengthen terms to fit a new election schedule.

    There was pushback from cities and school districts. School districts in particular prefer May elections, since new trustees are elected before the start of the budget year (July-June) which matches up with the school year. So the bill then said that local entities could hold their elections on the not-so-uniform date, but wouldn’t be sure of having county voting equipment available.

    The bill was then changed to have the primary in April and the runoff in June, which would have straddled the uniform election date. But on the house floor, it was switched back to March-May. Relatively few of the representatives voted against the switch back to March. Those who did, were mostly Republicans from rural areas who were probably more sensitive to the needs of towns and school districts. Everyone else simply wanted the primary to be in March, which also had the added benefit of moving the filing deadline back into December (all the better to choke off challengers).

    Redistricting delays, meant the primary was delayed to April. After it was further delayed, it had to be moved to May 29 to avoid stomping on the local elections. May 29 is the original date for the primary runoff. The only real difference is that early voting for the primary starts two weeks before the primary (2 days after the local election), whereas for the runoff, there is only one week.

    In any case, the two elections are close enough that the same voting machines can’t be used, because those used in the local election have to set aside until after the canvass is completed.

    Overseas ballots for the primary had to mailed by April 14. Most early voting is in person, the two weeks before an election. Early voting by mail (called absentee voting by some) is only for cause: age, disability, jail confinement, or absence from the county for the entire voting period. So by-mail voting for both elections is going on now.

    Early voting in person for the local elections starts tomorrow.

    The article cited by BAN is from Longview, which has about 2/3 of the population of Gregg County, and does have annual may elections. So for its readership it does seem like there are two elections back to back.

    Houston conducts its city elections in November of odd years, and there are very few elections in Harris County on May 12, so there really is no concern about this.

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