By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
Unless Bell County cities and school districts opt to purchase their own election equipment, a federally mandated change to state election law will result in lengthening several elected officials' terms by six months.
The change results from a confusing bill known as SB 100, which Gov. Rick Perry signed into law last month. The bill, authored by state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, moves Texas into compliance with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, a law allowing soldiers stationed overseas more time to file absentee ballots.
As an indirect consequence, the law moves primary run-offs for U.S. congressional seats to within 10 days of the regularly scheduled March municipal and school board elections. With early voting, voting machines would have to be fully recalibrated in two days.
That quick turnaround is something Bell County Clerk Shelley Coston has said is unfeasible. All local municipalities and school boards rent voting equipment from the county to conduct elections.
Coston has yet to contact Killeen Independent School District and city of Killeen officials to inform them that the county will not be conducting municipal elections in March.
It presents KISD and affected municipalities with three choices:
Buy their own election equipment and conduct elections independently.
Lengthen the terms of officials set expire in March 2012 by six months.
Alter the structure of terms, effectively eliminating staggered terms.
Further, the law also will tie the decisions of each local entity to each other, according to Special Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent Kirk Thomas.
"If it affects one of us, its going to affect everybody," said Thomas, who is the election administrator for KISD. "We're required by law to do elections jointly to save costs."
Thomas said it would likely be "cost prohibitive" for cities and KISD to work together to buy voting machines. With steep budget cuts to schools and municipalities, lengthening terms becomes more appealing.
Without buying new voting machines, only one option remains.
"They do not have a choice but to join (the county's) election in November," Coston said.
City Attorney Kathy Davis said she has not yet presented the news to members of the Killeen City Council. Davis said she plans to present the choices when she provides a Legislative update.
The city's charter mandates staggered terms and certain expiration dates; however, SB 100 supersedes the charter, Davis said. The council would be allowed to alter the voting schedule without approval from the voters.
For Killeen, it means all at-large council members would have their terms extended at least six months. Mayor Tim Hancock, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper and Councilmen Larry Cole and Billy Workman would continue to serve for at least an additional half a year, until the November 2012 election.
Two Harker Heights councilmen are affected, as are two members of the KISD school board.
Davis said if the council goes that direction, a housecleaning measure would likely be put to voters to move the city charter in line with SB 100.