By County Judge Tom D. Bonn
Over the years many people have complained about various election issues. Some of these complaints have been legitimate complaints and while others have been frivolous. All complaints concerning the conduct of our elections, however, must be taken seriously. The right to vote and to have free and fair elections is the bedrock of our Republic.
Just this last week, I received complaints that electioneering was happening at the counter of tax-assessor/collectors office by a candidate for office who is also an employee of the office. The tax-assessor/collector’s office is also our County elections office and early voting is conducted at this location. Electioneering by a County employee (who is also a candidate for office) is prohibited.
Past complaints and current complaints have led me to the conclusion that we need to follow the Texas Election Code and set up the County Elections Administrator Office. In this last year’s budget, the Elections Budget was kept separate from the Tax Assessor/Collector budget in anticipation of ultimately setting the elections department separate from the tax assessor/collector’s office.
At Monday’s Commissioner Court meeting we heard testimony from some citizens who felt that making this change was a smart move and long overdue. The citizens commented that an independent person should hold this position insuring fairness in elections. The Commissioners Court voted unanimously to approve the Order setting up this new position.
Under the Elections Code the Election Administrator is chosen by a five-member committee. The committee is composed of the head of the Republican Party, head of the Democratic Party, the County Clerk, the County Tax-Assessor/ Collector and the County Judge. The appointment is taken out of the hands of the Commissioners Court in an effort to have a more fair and independent election office.
Any person who holds the position of Election Administrator cannot be a candidate for office. This is part of the statutory scheme to set up a fairer and more independent elections office. In the past the elections official could also be a candidate for office. Over the years this meant that the tax-assessor/collector ended up being able to count their own votes and then certify those same votes. Under the new Elections Administrator position this cannot happen as the statute prohibits this practice.
I believe that the Court made the right decision in approving this position change and there will be less chance of any partisan politics interfering with the election process from the new election office. There is no additional budgetary cost for having an elections administrator as we currently have an employee working full-time on elections.
It should be noted that Caldwell County has contracted to conduct all public elections including Lockhart local school board and city elections. In conclusion we anticipate having our election results on time and shared with local news media along with our other neighboring counties.
Notice to Election Commission
At the recent Commissioners Court meeting held on Jan. 9, the Commissioners Court adopted an Order creating the position of County Elections Administrator. Pursuant to Section 31.031 the appointment of the County Elections Administrator is performed by the County Election Commission.
Pursuant to statute the County Election Commission is comprised of the County Judge (chair) the County Clerk (vice-chair) the County Tax Assessor-Collector (secretary) and the chair of each political party that made nominations by Primary Election for the last General Election for state and county officers preceding the date of the meeting at which the appointment is made.
The affirmative vote of a majority of the commission’s membership is necessary for the appointment of an administrator. Each appointment must be evidenced by a written resolution or order signed by the number of commission members necessary to make the appointment.
The initial appointment of the County Election Administrator may be made at any time after the adoption of the order creating the position.
Because 2012 will be a very busy election year I am calling a meeting of the County Election Commission at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan 17, in order for the Commission to agree upon how we are going to proceed for appointment of the administrator position. We have a Primary on April 3, 2012, and should make this appointment as soon as practical.
We will hold the meeting in the old Commissioners Courtroom here at the Courthouse. I look forward to meeting with you and working on this Commission.