Recent legal changes have complicated elections for county officials. To help them address these difficulties, the Texas Association of Counties put on the educational Texas Elections Academy over two mornings this week. The online classes attracted over 100 registrants and were led by experienced county officials and TAC and state experts.
Chambers County Clerk Heather Hawthorne and Hays County Elections Administrator Jennifer Doinoff emphasized the importance of preparation. Make sure polling sites have enough parking and restrooms and meet federal disabilities requirements, Doinoff said. Hawthorne urged election officials to check things large and small: Do the electrical outlets and your power cords work? Do you have enough office supplies — pens, tape, paper clips, markers and hand sanitizer? And do you have enough "I Voted" stickers?
She recommended that election organizers follow the checklist supplied by the Texas Secretary of State's Office. "It really hits everything you truly need," Hawthorne said.
Christina Adkins with the Elections Division at the Secretary of State's Office noted that county officials are trying to do two things: run a good election and convince the public that they've run a good election. Transparency and a paper trail of documents are essential to that second goal, she said.
She also urged election administrators to be vigilant about required web postings and recommended that attendees review the Tarrant County elections website, which she called innovative.
Two of the recent legal changes entangling county officials involve requests for election records and poll watchers. The latter should be treated with respect, Hawthorne said. "You really want to avoid confrontation," she said. Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis noted that there was a silver lining to their involvement because it could be seen as a measure of civic engagement. Still, Doinoff said, "There are a small handful that like to push the envelope."
Davis also noted that the number of requests for election records recently has been unprecedented. District and County Clerk Laura Rogers of Sherman County, with a population of 1,686, said she has received seven requests during the past two months. In previous elections, she hadn't received any, Rogers said.
Throughout the conference, attendees were urged to consult their county attorney or the Secretary of State's Office for answers to legal problems. During the closing session, Rogers noted the unpredictability of balloting and offered a humorous adaptation of Murphy's Law: "If something doesn't go wrong, you're not having an election."