By Anita Miller
Hays County Commissioners stopped short of naming an “all-inclusive” Community Elections Commission on Tuesday, opting instead for County Judge Ruben Becerra and Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith to develop parameters intended to insure diversity among the group’s membership.
An actual vote on the commission could come as early as next week. The idea for such a group grew out of a special called meeting on Aug. 19 at which dozens of community members spoke. The proposed committee would operate year-round, and would have a say in selecting some as-yet-undetermined locations for voting this Nov. 5, as well as other voting-related matters.
This November’s election is the first time Hays voters won’t have to report to their specific precinct ballot box on election day, but instead can vote at any voting center county-wide. In addition to council races in Kyle and Buda, the election will include proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.
“This is a nonpartisan effort to inform, inform, inform,” Becerra said, giving a nod to the League of Women Voters, who initially floated the idea of a commission at the Aug. 19 workshop. “This is a Hays County effort, as a whole court, to do the best we can.”
Smith said he would like to see input from the county’s Elections Administrator “as far as outreach that was done in the past,” as well as clarification of who would speak for municipalities. “I’d like someone from each municipality that can speak for that municipality,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re cognizant and get a committee that can really do the work we are asking them to do.”
Smith also pointed out that the state of Texas is “very clear on what our roles in the county are, and very clear on how we set up some of these things,” and noted that before the commission begins work, members should be aware of “what is possible and allowable under state law.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Lon Shell was first to question whether elected officials should be part of the commission. “I can go back and forth. I personally lean toward not, but I’m open to conversation.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Mark Jones also said he wanted to know if the commission would include elected officials or not. “My preference would be non-elected with the exception of party chairs,” he said. “Membership should not be decided by population,” he said, “but by area, so everyone is represented no matter what the population is.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe also questioned “what entities, what groups, should participate” and “how do we decide who appoints those individuals.”
Shell suggested a student be named to represent Texas State University, and that the commission should also include someone to represent churches, which are frequently used as polling places.
Becerra charged the commissioners to bring recommendations ahead of a vote. “I want an organized grass roots approach. Go back to your cities. Ask your elected officials to help shape what this looks like.” Commissioners have not said how many members the commission will have.
Hays County League of Women Voters President Linda Calvert was among members of the public who spoke to the issue. “I’m concerned because I don’t hear an explicit mechanism for pulling in unrepresented groups,” she said after listening to the discussion. “Texas is not so much a Republican state or a Democratic state. It’s a non-voting state … If you just go to the places people are already voting, you miss a huge pool.”
Becerra said he and Smith intend to reach out to the League as they develop parameters “so that we can have something concrete as soon as possible.”
No motion resulted from the discussion.