Elections Ahead: How Will Texas Governments Hold Certain Elections in 2020?
Since the arrival of Covid-19 in the state of Texas, local governments have repeatedly found themselves in uncharted waters. One particularly hot topic for local governments right now has been the subject of general and special elections. Due to the need to social distance, the Governor’s office allowed local governments with an election date of May 2 to move their elections to the November 3rd uniform election date. However, some local governments have special elections that cannot wait until November 3rd due to issues such as the need to reauthorize a street maintenance sales tax or to fill a vacancy on city council or the office of the Mayor.
If a local government wants to move an election to an earlier date there are, for the most part, two options available. The first option is found under the Texas Election Code Section 41.011 aptly titled “Emergency Requiring Early Election.” This section allows a local political subdivision to request permission from the Governor to allow them to order a special election on a non-uniform election date. One thing to note here is that this only applies to special elections and not general elections. The second option is to seek a court order. Section 41.001(a) of the Election Code provides the dates that general and special elections shall be held in the state of Texas, but 41.001(b)(3) says that subsection (a) does not apply to “an election held under an order of a court or other tribunal.” Unfortunately, neither of these options ever see much success, but we can hope that due to the unprecedented nature of this pandemic the Governor’s office and the Court’s might be a little more lenient.
A mentioned above, one issue with special elections is the reauthorization of the street maintenance sales taxes. If a municipality has a street maintenance sales tax that expires on September 30, 2020, the comptroller’s office has advised that these municipalities may request the comptroller to extend this expiration date to December 31, 2020, which allows them to hold their reauthorization election in November and avoid the expiration of that sales tax. However, there are other municipalities that have their street maintenance sales tax expiring on June 30, 2020, and unfortunately the comptroller’s authority to delay this expiration date only allows them to delay until September, which means this sales tax for these municipalities will expire before they can be reauthorized. Any local government that finds themselves in this situation needs to request the Governor to either extend the expiration dates or set a special emergency election for the reauthorization of those sales taxes prior to their expiration.
Another issue for local governments is the need to fill a vacancy on city council or the office of the Mayor. Article XI, Section 11, of the Texas Constitution provides that a city with three or four-year terms must fill a vacancy at an election “called for such purpose within one hundred and twenty (120) days after such vacancy or vacancies occur….” If a vacancy exists and the 120 days will be up before the November uniform election date that city will need to request an earlier election date by court order or ask the court to relieve the city of the 120-day requirement.
As we all know, elections are an important function of any form of government, whether that be local, state, or federal. The ability to ensure our governments can continue to operate as efficiently as possible during these times is paramount to maintaining order and civility within our communities. It is imperative that our local and state governments work together to ensure some form of normalcy during these abnormal times.
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.