Port Arthur group seeking to put charter change on May ballot

Published 12:26 am Sunday, November 20, 2022

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A grassroots group of Port Arthur residents is continuing to push for a shift in the city’s voting system, now searching for a way to have a charter change placed on the ballot in May.

United Citizens of Port Arthur, which has appeared before council regarding the matter twice since a mayoral race in May led to a runoff in July, is proposing a proposition that would change the city from a majority to plurality voting system, reduce term limits and reorder the way in which councilmembers serve districts.

Plurality voting automatically appoints the candidate who receives the highest number of votes, while majority requires one candidate to receive more than 50 percent or face a runoff among the top two.

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“What we really want is, first of all, to have the citizens and the taxpayers understand that the majority voting system is costing us extra money,” said UCOPA Chairman Eddie Scaggs. “The cost in the mayoral election when we had the four candidates, it cost the taxpayers $44,000-plus for the first mayoral election. The runoff cost $58,000-plus. That’s an unnecessary expense, we believe, to the taxpayers. But we have to get the information out to them, and then it has to be put on the ballot for them to vote to change it. So that’s our hope.”

Scaggs said the number of residents voting also makes the cost of a runoff unnecessary.

According to information from Jefferson County, 3,167 votes were cast in the May mayoral election. The number of eligible registered voters was 33,026.

“When we had the runoff, less than — I think it was — 277 fewer voters came out for the runoff,” Scaggs said. “And usually that’s what happens —  you get more people to vote the first time, and when you have the runoff you have fewer people vote.”

Councilmembers currently serve three-year terms, which requires majority voting by order of the Texas Constitution, according to information previously given by City Attorney Valecia Tizeno. Changing the city’s charter to a majority voting system would also reduce term limits.

“If you look at the national voting and things like that, it’s usually based on the plurality system,” Scaggs said. “And we looked around at a lot of other cities that are larger than we are, and they use the plurality system. So we don’t understand why we’re stuck with this majority system.”

Proposed changes by UCOPA also reorder the districts in which councilmembers serve. Currently there are four members each representing one specific district and two that serve at-large. The proposition from UCOPA would split Port Arthur into six districts with a representative for District 5 elected by residents in District 1 and District 4, and a representative for District 6 elected by residents in District 2 and District 3.

UCOPA had originally asked to have the changes placed on the ballot earlier this month. However, Tizeno said, the charter had last been amended in November 2020 and amendments can only be done once every two years.