State law allows Commissioners Court to assign that responsibility to the county clerk, who already conducts elections and counts the votes, as long as the county clerk and the tax assessor-collector sign off on the plan. The court also can create an independent elections administration office to handle all election-related duties.
Seventy-three of Texas’ 254 counties have established separate elections offices, including every large, urban county but Harris and Travis. Nineteen other counties have assigned the voter registration role to the county clerk.
Earlier this month, Republican precinct chairman Jim Harding proposed moving the rolls to the County Clerk’s Office, saying that would “streamline all of the voter activity from initial registration to final certification of an election under county clerk leadership.”
Republican County Judge Ed Emmett and Democratic Commissioners Sylvia Garcia and El Franco Lee have said the idea of moving the rolls is worth discussing, though little consensus has emerged over how that should be done.
Emmett said he would be open to shifting those duties to the county clerk but opposed the creation of a new elections administration office. Garcia said she prefers the idea of an elections administrator because that person would be prohibited by law from making political contributions or endorsing candidates or ballot measures. Lee said he is not sure either change would do enough to make the voter registration process more transparent and user-friendly.
For her part, Republican County Clerk Beverly Kaufman said she is not interested in adding voter registration to her many responsibilities. And newly appointed Tax Assessor-Collector Leo Vasquez said he believes the current system is very efficient.
That Vasquez doesn’t want the job he just inherited to be reduced in responsibility isn’t a surprise. Having said that, I remain agnostic on the issue. Until demonstrated otherwise, I believe the problems we saw this year had more to do with Bettencourt than with the office itself. As such, I’m reluctant to call for a change to something new at this time. Had Beverly Kaufman been willing to take on the task, I might feel more positive about it. For now, let’s see if the change at the top is the answer. At least we know there’s more attention being focused on the problem.