Voting Fiasco in Bexar!
by
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
March 19, 2002

Voters of Bexar County were stunned this week by the chaos of poorly administered Primary Elections for both the Republican and Democratic Parties.  Each party failed to hire enough election judges and to secure enough polling locations to serve the needs of the voters throughout the County.  While most of the blame is shared at the party staff level, the Chairs of both parties stepped forward to express their disappointment, but also to admit their individual Party shortcomings and to accept responsibility for immediate improvement.

On Election Day, some voters arrived at polling locations that were not open, did not have enough staff, did not have the correct poll rosters, or did not have correct ballots.  These circumstances reveal that the planning and execution of a countywide election present complex administrative and logistical challenges.  With commitments and requirements to support and guide their candidates, the Republican and Democratic Party staffs realized too late that producing their own elections instead of contracting for the County Elections Administrator to do so, demanded the completion of more tasks than they were able accomplish in the time allotted.  

The schedules for weaving together an election are unforgiving and once the time is past to identify, to ask, and to confirm people to work as election judges, there is a problem; once the time is past to reserve polling locations, there is another problem.  In tandem, the two dynamics always lead to the last minute consolidation of voting places, and to the last minute movement of election judges.  As the Elections Administrator Cliff Barofsky has suggested, especially in this case, if you do not have time to do it right, you will not have time to do it over.  Bexar County voters and election judges deserve better. 

In addition, the problem of recruiting judges is complicated by the fact that the pay for election judges is a meager $5.15 per hour.  This is less than the $7 that Commissioners Court authorized to pay judges for the elections the County conducts.  The $5.15 per hour is a continuing affront to the people who dedicate their time to the election process.  Nobody ever claimed to get rich working as an election judge, but clearly higher pay would help. 

The amount authorized to pay judges in the primaries is determined as part of the State budget.  Since the Texas Legislature meets only once every other year, it should be understood that planning for the salaries of the election judges is already in progress for the 2004 primaries.  Elected officials should address their concerns now to the membership of the appropriate finance committees and to the new Secretary of State as well. 

Last week, the Express-News discovered that the Parties are required to pay for the poll site location announcements to the voters, even thought the Secretary of State's office does not authorize money to pay for those announcements.  This too should be addressed to the Legislature.  An entire page ad, be it poll sites or not, is expensive.  Fortunately, the Express-News stepped up to offer a public service by publishing the sites for the voters before the election. Unfortunately, the poll sites were changed too close to the election to again notify the voters of last minute changes.

If there is a silver lining in this at all, it is that the community and its leaders are better positioned to learn more about the election process and to appreciate its usually hidden complexity.  Knowledge should lead to change for the better.  This is also a good time for more community education since the County is considering a major decision to begin installing new elections equipment for its voters.  The lessons of the 2002 Primary Election should not be lost, but should be used as a springboard for enhanced community involvement and election processes.

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