By Anita Miller
Hays County’s five largest municipalities, along with all four school districts and political party chairs, will be represented on the Elections Commission that was approved by a unanimous vote of the Commissioners Court Sept. 3.
The group will also contain a representative of the rural community, one from the disabled community and one from the League of Women Voters, along with two members appointed by each of the court’s five members.
“We feel this is a starting point,” Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra said prior to the vote. No individuals have as yet been identified, but none of them are expected to be elected officials.
Becerra said the commission will have a “narrow, deliberate focus” of identifying voting center locations, then assessing each election after it has occurred – and its goals will be to “evaluate the distribution and effectiveness of voting centers and recommend changes as needed.”
The committee would elect its own leadership and meet a minimum of twice a year – once in late November to evaluate that month’s voting and once in late May to evaluate March primaries and May local elections.
Becerra and Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith met Sept. 5 to define parameters for the group. “We spent the hours on this and have genuinely tried our very best to include everyone.”
The two began their meeting with different opinions on whether the commission should include elected officials, but Becerra said he came around to Smith’s way of thinking.
“I was fully supportive of no elected officials,” Smith said. “For instance, if you have an at-large position on the school board, or the city council, it would incentivize them to say, ‘this is the church where I go or this is the school my kid goes to and I want these to be polling locations,’ — in an at-large race that could be very problematic.”
“Once it was explained to me, I couldn’t agree more,” Becerra said. “Commissioner Smith brought up a good point and I said, ‘you’re right.’”
Becerra’s Chief of Staff Alex Villalobos noted that each site must meet specific criteria including access to the internet and adequate parking. Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones reiterated that the commission “stay away from schools,” primarily for safety issues. “The schools do not want us. They’re letting us (use their facilities) but they feel they don’t have a choice.”
The specific membership would include one representative each from San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Dripping Springs and Wimberley and one each from the Hays, San Marcos, Dripping Springs and Wimberley school districts.
Democratic and Republican party chairs from Hays County and from Texas State University would also be included and the county’s elections officer administrator would serve as a technical advisor.
The two appointees to represent the rural and disabled communities would be chosen by the court as a whole; individual commissioners, through their two appointees each, would be able to address any “deficiencies” in the group’s membership.
During public comments, Hays County League of Women Voters President Linda Calvert called the formation of the commission “of vital interest and importance” and suggested the county consider a voting “hotline” people could call if they encounter any problems voting.