The Austin City Council decided Friday to hold the 2012 council elections in May instead of November, ending a weeks-long debate marked by accusations of voter suppression and political expediency.
A new state law aimed at helping more overseas military personnel vote in primaries will make it tough for Texas cities to continue to hold local elections in May, and allows them to move those elections to November.
The City of Austin had already planned to hold a November 2012 election that includes a bond package and city charter changes. So Mayor Lee Leffingwell and council members Mike Martinez and Chris Riley said it would make sense to move next year’s mayoral race and three other council races to that date, too.
They said that holding an extra election in May, when council races are normally scheduled, would be costly — as much as $1.2 million extra, according to city estimates — and likely result in the same abysmally low voter turnout seen in May city elections. Many more voters are expected to go to the polls in November 2012 because the presidential race and several state and federal races will be on that ballot.
But a majority of council members — Sheryl Cole, Laura Morrison, Bill Spelman and Kathie Tovo — said it wouldn’t be right for council members to add six months to their terms by moving the election date. They added that the city charter, Austin’s version of a constitution, calls for holding council elections in May. And they said only voters, not council members, should get to decide on a different election date.
For reasons unclear to this non-resident of Austin, they voted on this three times, with the last vote coming on Friday. All four No voters were consistent throughout. By contrast, Austin Community College voted to make the move to November that Austin City Council did not, and they did so for all the reasons that proponents of moving Council’s elections advocated.
BOR has been all over this – see here, here, and here for a sample. Harold Cook also weighed in. I can understand the arguments against November elections, but I cannot condone them. There’s no honor in voting for less participation in democracy. I hope a future Council reconsiders this decision.