By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
A bill on its way to Gov. Rick Perry for final approval may cause several local elected officials' current terms to be extended six months.
The law is intended to bring Texas up to new 2009 federal standards for absentee voters stationed overseas. It allows more time for soldiers to receive and mail back their ballots. But as an unintended consequence, municipal elections scheduled for May next year may have to be moved to November.
During even-numbered years when federal elections are held, federal primary runoffs would be pushed from April to May. In 2012, it would mean only a 10-day difference between the scheduled dates for the May 12 municipal election and the May 22 primary runoff. Early voting for the runoff would begin two days after the municipal election.
Bell County Clerk Shelley Coston said while it is possible to hold two elections in such a small amount of time, it is not practical.
"In 10 days, you have to do so much prep for an election that to get it done in 10 days, I guess you could say anything is possible. Feasible? No," Coston said.
Coston's interpretation of the bill, authored by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, is that municipal elections in even-numbered years would have to be either moved to November of that year or to May of the following year.
For example, the May 2012 election would be moved to November 2012 or May 2013.
For Killeen, it would mean all at-large council members would have their terms extended six months. That means Mayor Tim Hancock, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper, Larry Cole and Billy Workman would continue to serve for an additional half a year.
It also affects the terms of Harker Heights Councilman Sam Murphey and Mayor Pro Tem Spencer Smith, as well as Killeen Independent School District Board of Trustees President Ron Rainosek and Trustee Minerva Trujillo.
Killeen's city charter outlines that terms are supposed to begin and end in May. But there are legal frameworks in place that would allow council members to remain in their elected posts after their terms technically expire.
City Attorney Kathy Davis said she is familiar with the legislation.
"City staff are still reviewing this bill and the effect it will have on our election processes. The bill does have a provision allowing for the council to pass a resolution to conform council terms to this new law, and there are also holding-over provisions in elections law generally that address what happens when a council member's term is up but his successor has not yet been qualified to take over," Davis said in an emailed statement.
Cities and school districts maintain the opportunity to run their own elections in May. However, county equipment would not be available. Coston said it takes a certain amount of time to reprogram voting machines and assemble the framework of people to staff elections.
When reached Friday, Hancock said he was unaware of the legislation and the effect it would have on his term. Hancock is term limited and said he was fully prepared to step down next May.
Hancock said he supports any legislation that would allow for more soldiers to vote, noting that only 1,600 of 54,000 registered voters cast ballots in the last municipal election.
Having a municipal election at the same time as the 2012 presidential election would also increase voter turnout.
"If this is going to help increase voter turnout, then I think that is the best thing that can happen," Hancock said.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553.