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Officials worry about voter turnout

By Glenn Evans
March 11, 2012 at 11 p.m.


County elections administrators are crystal clear about one thing as party primaries and the election date for school boards and city councils bump within weeks of each other - this could get confusing.

"It's extremely worrisome to all of us," Harrison County Elections Administrator Pam Brock said, speaking for officials across the state who anticipate calls and confusion over clashing election dates.

Voters elect candidates to school and city offices May 12.

They'll return to polls on May 29, when party primaries are scheduled for statewide and national elections.

It's a new Texas two-step, with two bands playing at once.

"That's exactly what it is," said Gregg County Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy. "They've never been this close. We have had special elections, to replace a state senator or something, but we had those on the same day as the May election. And we have never had two elections, back-to-back in the same month. Never, never."

The May 12 city and school elections always are on that second Saturday in May. The Democratic and Republican primary date, kicked down the calendar twice by ongoing court battles over political lines, appears to have finally settled on May 29.

The last day to register to vote for the city/school elections is April 13. The last day to register to vote in the primaries is April 30.

Early voting in the city/school elections is April 30 through May 8. Early voting in the primaries is May 14-25.

So, primary voters will begin casting early ballots two days after voting in school and city races.

"A lot of my voters are going to be voting in their city and school races," Brock said. "And they are going to continue to see these signs that say, 'Vote Here.' And they'll say, 'I've already voted,' and they're not going to realize there's another election."

Meanwhile, no one has a voter registration card. Nealy, Brock and the other administrators normally send out automatic renewals at the beginning of election years. The court battles now give them until the end of April to accomplish the mass mailings.

Voters do not have to re-register unless they've moved, the women said.

The two-day window between city/school election day and the start of primary early voting poses a huge challenge for counties using electronic vote machines.

Nealy said those usually have to be idled 10 days after an election before they are reset.

"Well, we don't have 10 days between elections now," she said. "And we certainly don't have enough (machines) to have a whole set for the primary and a whole set for city and school elections."

Brock fears many voters will confuse the two elections, which often require them to vote in different places.

People could go to the right place on the wrong day, she said.

And, don't even mention the new voter ID law, other than to say it's on hold - for now.

"So far, it has not been approved by the (U.S.) Justice Department," Nealy said of the law that, eventually, will require voters to produce an approved photo identification. "We've heard there is supposed to be a hearing in the middle of March. If they do approve it in the middle of March, that will give people some time. If they approve it in May - no way. I hope they just wait, to give the voters time."

Both administrators also have special challenges brought on by the once-a-decade change in local voting precinct lines.

Those local boundaries didn't change much for Nealy in Gregg County, but a Longview ISD building program has leveled many of the schools people were accustomed to visiting on election day.

Brock has a special challenge in western Harrison County, where voting Box 13 in Lagrone Chapel United Methodist Church northeast of Longview has been split into two boxes - 13 and 25.

Box 13 is still at the church off FM 2208, she said. The new one, Box 25, is in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall on U.S. 80 between Hallsville and Longview.

"It's vitally important that the voters look at their (voter registration) cards and make a note of their voting location," Brock said. "If it doesn't say, 13, anymore then they're not voting at Lagrone Chapel."

Aside from the extra phone calls that already have begun, the administrators say they mostly are upset the confusion could lower voter turnout.

Brock worries particularly about the GOP primary, when Texas Republicans will say whom they want as their presidential nominee.

"I am so afraid and worried and concerned that the voters are going to overlook this election, our primary election in May," Brock said. "Then, once we get through the May 29 election, we have to turn around for a runoff election on July 31."

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