The Port Arthur News
When the Jefferson County Commissioners’ Court unanimously adopted its annual budget Sept. 24, it voted to change who oversees elections.
The court approved an $80,000 expenditure that allows County Clerk Carolyn Guidry to hire an elections manager, as well as a part-time assistant, to handle every facet of nearly all future elections.
This includes contracting with cities and school districts to run their elections.
“I informed the Commissioners’ Court with the existing staff dedicated to the election department that I would no longer contract with the political parties for the primary elections,” Guidry said. “I suggested, it would be in the best interest of the county, political parties and political subdivisions to create the position of election administrator.”
However, the court, which heard from a number of cities and school districts favoring such a move, declined to do so even though the decision basically accomplishes the same task by having one person dedicated to running elections.
“In this budget, we voted to include funding for a new position, elections manager, that will initially report to the elected office of Jefferson County Clerk,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Eddie Arnold. “This full-time person, once established, will be responsible for coordinating all aspects associated with the planning and implementing all the county, state, and national elections along with negotiating agreements with any other entities wishing to contract with Jefferson County for these services.”
Guidry, who will hire one full-time and one part-time person, researched various options for commissioners including costs and process details, Arnold said.
State law allows for the creation of a true election administrator. According to the Texas Association of Counties and the Secretary of State’s office, 84 out of 254 counties have such a position.
Of the remaining counties, 161 have the county clerk serve as the chief election official with nine counties having the tax-assessor collector assume that role.
If a Commissioners’ Court opts to have an election administrator, it funds the office but does not make the decision on who serves in that capacity. That selection is made by a committee consisting of the county judge, county clerk, tax-assessor collector and the chairman of the Democratic and Republican parties.
“My constitutional role as an appointment by Commissioners’ Court to administer the election in Jefferson County per the Texas Election Code is to administer the elections called for by the governor or the Commissioners’ Court,” Guidry said. “I am not mandated by statute to contract with political parties or political subdivisions to administer their elections.”
Guidry said the new job would not be filled until after the November election and that even that timeframe would depend on whether or there are ties or recounts.
“I am willing to try to handle the elections held within Jefferson County with the additional staff granted for the 2012-2013 fiscal year,” she said. “If the additional staff proves to be insufficient, then we will be back at the drawing table next budget process.”
According to Guidry, the cities of Beaumont, Bevil Oaks and Groves along with the Nederland, Port Arthur and Port Neches-Groves school districts, all were in favor of the county having an election administrator. However, the Beaumont school district indicated it was content with the city of Beaumont doing its elections, she said.
Among the cons of having an election administrator is the cost factor and the potential to interject politics in the process as the two party chairs would sit on the committee that would hire – and would subsequently fire – that person.
Hoping to avoid a situation similar to when the NFL used replacement referees, Arnold said the county “will re-evaluate these changes in the future and, if needed, may make changes accordingly.”
“As a result of this action by the court, Guidry committed to the court that she and her team would diligently work toward getting other cities, school districts, etc. to contract with Jefferson County for election services when and as needed,” Arnold said. “This may be an interim solution, and we will be monitoring the process very closely.”