By Elsa Maxey
The local outcomes of Election 2020 came literally to light last Wednesday morning on a beautiful fall, sunny day in Fort Bend County.
We knew there would be changes in Sugar Land, Missouri City and the county among other jurisdictions in part due to vacated offices or because an office holder opted not to run for re-election. That was the case with Fort Bend County Attorney Roy Cordes Jr., who served in that capacity since 2006. Yet, for others the changes were about pursuing other elected office aspirations. And then for others, the changes to take place would be due to being voted out of office, unless there was to be a runoff to determine the ultimate outcome.
A runoff becomes necessary when votes for a candidate running for a particular office do not amount to more than 50 percent. In Missouri City, Mayor Yolanda Ford and former council member Robin Elackatt will compete for the city’s top position in a runoff election in December. So will incumbent council at-large position No. 2 Chris Preston and challenger Lynn Clouser, who are vying for the city council place.
For a while now, we have been consumed with daily drama on our phones from text and video messages, social media and TV. So when the big moment arrived for early voting, which started a week earlier than originally planned as OK’d by Gov. Greg Abbott due to the pandemic, the en masse turnout in Fort Bend, 67.97 percent, placed Fort Bend in a second-highest early voter turnout rank among Texas’ largest urban counties. There were even extended hours the first week to make up for a computer glitch that delayed voting for a couple of hours on the first day of early voting. We were hyped and even had the Smart Financial Center commissioned to accommodate the record-breaking turnout!
Voters used new voting machines, gently handled in July during the runoff primary. The votes were recorded digitally and backed up by the feel of old-school paper ballots cast in official ballot boxes as voters exited the polling centers, some with the disposable stylus in hand to keep as a memorable souvenir.
That 70 percent turnout prediction for the general election in the county was surpassed and the majority of the votes were cast during early voting, which cast the limelight on the county statewide. Fort Bend County Judge KP George announced the historic turnout that shattered all previous records.
On the subject of ballot boxes and the general election, just maybe it would make sense to have national voting standards for the election process in federal elections. Currently, each state establishes its own laws for voter requirements and registrations. This variation throughout the U.S., given today’s communication platforms, ends up with so much shared misinformation confusing the general public. In the end someone’s vote may turn out to not be counted or may not even be timely cast. This could help create order out of what sometimes turns out to feel and be chaotic across the country.
There were people in this area, for example, looking for multiple mail-in ballot dropoff box locations, even though the only one authorized in Fort Bend County was on Reading Road in Rosenberg. Per Abbott’s decision before the election, there could be only one dropoff location for absentee ballots in each of Texas’ 254 counties. The decision was challenged in court, with critics saying it limited voters’ ability to cast their ballots in the state’s larger counties, but ultimately upheld.
Nationalizing election standards may be a bit far-fetched, but it’s something to think about, at least for general elections. Realistically, here’s what may be really needed and readily doable.
Since the elections are over and so much about the local process is still fresh on our minds, establishing an Elections Review Commission in Fort Bend County could serve to streamline or maybe even change the voting process currently in place. The commission could be comprised of registered voters appointed by local jurisdictions, which could solicit input from the voting community.
For example, it could tackle issues relating to the mail-in ballot. For those who mailed one, they know it required proper postage, or did it? Calls to the elections administration and even the Secretary of State’s office did not seem to provide that satisfactory of an answer. The gist of their response was to ask the post office about the amount needed because the postage cost for mailing a ballot to an elections office varies due to differences in ballot style and overall weight.
After some insistence for a more practical answer, it turned out that a 55-cent stamp or none at all would ensure the acceptance of the ballot. Sending a mailed ballot without a stamp would mean the entity handling the election would pay the post office for the postage due. Messy with an iffy feel altogether!
And, because of the size of the ballot envelope and its bulky contents, some people used two first-class stamps amounting to $1.10 as did my husband to satisfy his fears about the ballot’s acceptance. This and so much more could be worked out, and a Fort Bend County Elections Review Commission, much like a city charter review commission, could probably generate some impressive citizen recommendations for consideration by the county, which administers elections in this area. The intention behind this would be about protecting a citizen’s most valued right without barriers, which is the foundation of our self-governance in our democracy.