I'm a big fan of early voting. I vote early in every election, and if I had my way, we'd extend the "voting center" concept of early voting to Election Day. If I had a complaint about Early Voting, it's that it always runs from a Monday to a Friday, and thus never takes advantage of as many weekends as it could or should. I hadn't realized that this was a statutory limitation, but thanks to HB 1642, filed by Rep. Solomon Ortiz, Jr., we may have the chance to rectify this. From his press release:
State Representative Solomon Ortiz Jr. (D-Corpus Christi) announced today that he has filed legislation to give counties the option of offering voters an additional weekend of early voting.
"It is important that voters have every opportunity possible to make their voices heard," Rep. Ortiz said. "Conducting early voting for a full two weeks will maximize civic participation."
Early voting normally begins 17 days before the date of an election. However, a quirk in the current law forces counties to wait until Monday to start early voting if the 17th day before an election falls on a weekend. Since 17 days before both the March primary and November general elections is a Saturday, the current law reduces early voting from two weeks to twelve days during two of the most important elections held in Texas. Ortiz's HB 1642 would give counties the option of conducting early voting on the initial Saturday and Sunday if they so choose.
"We want to make sure counties can allow for two full weeks of early voting," Ortiz said. "More people vote when more days are available."
Rep. Ortiz noted that one weekend of early voting may have been sufficient in the past, but non-standard workweeks and a highly mobile work force require that an additional weekend be offered.
"Many of my constituents hold two jobs and work weekends. Some of them are on the road or on offshore oil rigs for weeks at a time," Ortiz said. "Their voices need to be heard."
Counties with smaller budgets for elections will be not be forced to offer the additional days of early voting, Ortiz said.
"In some cases, offering additional early voting may be cost-prohibitive," Ortiz said. "My bill will not burden counties with any of the unfunded mandates they have become so accustomed to."
"This bill gives counties the flexibility to ensure elections are conducted in an efficient, cost-effective manner that maximizes participation," Ortiz added.
Nueces County Clerk Diana Barrera says the bill will improve voter participation in her county.
"As an elections administrator in an urban county, I understand the difficulties working people face in getting to the polls," Barrera said. "HB 1642 will ensure all registered voters have the opportunity to cast their vote."
Current ambiguities in the law led to an extended controversy over early voting during the special election for Congress in House District 23. A dispute over the beginning date of early voting in Bexar County eventually ended up in court. HB 1642 would clarify the law and prevent future controversy and legal action, Ortiz said.
"Counties need to be able to offer early voting without the threat of a court battle, " Ortiz added.
Representatives from both parties have come out in favor of the bill, Ortiz said.