FLOOR AMENDMENT TO S.B. 100 PRESERVES MAY UNIFORM ELECTION DATE IN LIMITED CIRCUMSTANCES
Last week, the Senate passed S.B. 100 by Senator Van de Putte. The bill would implement the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. The MOVE Act, which was passed by Congress in 2009, changes the way military and overseas voters register and vote in federal elections. The major change brought about by the MOVE Act is that federal ballots now must be transmitted to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before an election for federal office or any election held in conjunction with a federal election, including a primary and primary run-off election.
Texas law currently does not allow for the transmission of ballots to military and overseas voters 45 days prior to the general primary election and primary runoff election in the spring of even-numbered years. The primary purpose of S.B. 100 is to adjust the dates of the general primary election and primary runoff election in order to bring Texas into compliance with the MOVE Act. S.B. 100, as passed, would retain the general primary date of the first Tuesday in March of an even-numbered year, while shifting the primary run-off to the fourth Tuesday in May of an even-numbered year in order to comply with the federal law.
As highlighted in a recent Legislative Update article (http://www.tml.org/leg_updates/legis_update040811a_uniform_election_date.asp), the committee substitute that was voted out of the Senate Committee on State Affairs eliminated the May uniform election date in even-numbered years (the second Saturday in May). The reason provided for the elimination of the May election date in even-numbered years is that county elections officials would be unable to adequately prepare the electronic voting machines shared with or leased to cities, school districts, and special districts on the May election date in even-numbered years because of the proximity to the new primary runoff election date. The practical effect of eliminating one May uniform date would be to move most city elections to the November uniform election date.
An amendment was offered and accepted on the Senate floor which could preserve the May uniform date in even-numbered years for some cities. The amendment would expressly allow cities and other political subdivisions to continue to have the option of using the May uniform election date in even-numbered years. But the amendment also provides that a county elections administrator is not required to enter into a contract with a city to furnish election services on the May uniform election date in even-numbered years.
What would the ultimate passage of S.B. 100 – in its current form – mean for Texas cities? If a city currently holds its elections in May, and contracts with the county to provide voting machines, the amendment still may not save the May uniform election date in even-numbered years. A county elections administrator who finds the task of reprogramming and calibrating electronic voting machines in the spring of even-numbered years too onerous may refuse to provide machines or otherwise assist with the city election on that date. Realistically, this means that many cities may still have to move their elections to the November date under the amended version of S.B. 100.
There are a few different scenarios under which a city could still conduct an election in May of even-numbered years under the current version of the bill. If a city does not wish to contract with the county for election services, including electronic voting machines, the city could continue to use the May election date every year. Of course, this would mean that the city either must purchase electronic voting machines or enter into a contract with a voting system vendor to provide the machines. If a city wishes to continue to contract with the county for election services, the city election could be held in May of even-numbered years only if the county agrees to assist.
Although the version of S.B. 100 that passed the Senate is by no means perfect, it at least gives some cities the ability to continue to hold their elections in May of even-numbered years. Cities that currently hold their elections in May and contract with the county for elections services should contact their county election officials to discuss the feasibility of continuing to use the May date in even-numbered years.
The companion bill to S.B. 100, H.B. 111 by Van Taylor, has received a hearing in the House Committee on Defense and Veterans Affairs, but has not yet been voted out of committee. (In its current form, H.B. 111 would eliminate the May election date in even-numbered years.)
We continue to urge city officials with concerns about S.B. 100 and H.B. 111 to contact their legislators as soon as possible.