Texplainer: Why is the Runoff Period So Long?

Hey, Texplainer: Why are the runoff elections for the 2012 Texas primaries being held nine weeks — rather than the usual three to six weeks — after the end of the first balloting?

Runoff candidates are campaigning until July 31, when voters again go to the polls. Thinking the primaries would be held March 6 as originally planned, most candidates starting campaigning around Labor Day of 2011. But the extended legal battle over the state’s redistricting maps knocked the primary to May 29. Given the already extended campaign cycle, the nine-week runoff period is creating more uncertainty for candidates still vying for a nomination.

“I’m assuming that all of this adds up to lower turnout just because of the extended timeframe between the primary and the runoff,” said Steve Raborn, the Tarrant County elections administrator. “And the fact that it lands in the proverbial dog days of summer.”

Of more than 200 runoff campaigns he’s been involved with during his career, Bryan Eppstein, a political consultant currently working on the runoff campaign for Rep. Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonville, who is facing Travis Clardy, said none have been set more than three to six weeks after the first balloting.

The extra few weeks create a “disconnect in this election for all candidates that are facing runoffs,” he said. “It’s almost as if they have to run completely brand-new elections.”

The May 29 primary date and the July 31 runoff date were set by a panel of federal judges who presided over the redistricting lawsuit.

But even if the federal judges hadn’t intervened, the runoff elections would have been more than six weeks after the original balloting ended. The Legislature originally set the runoff elections on May 22, or 11 weeks after the March 6  primary election, under a law passed last session to comply with new federal election law.

The 2o10 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act requires all states to provide absentee ballots electronically to military personnel and Americans living abroad no later than 45 days before any election that includes a federal race.

To ensure Texas complied with new federal regulations, Texas lawmakers passed a bill in the last legislative session that set the original 2012 primary dates. It also extended the provisions in the MOVE Act to apply to statewide elections. The Texas law also gave the secretary of state's office permission to transfer absentee ballots electronically to military personnel and Americans living overseas and ordered the secretary of state to create an online tracking system for military and overseas voters to ensure their ballots were received, as required by the federal law.

“Unless some other solution comes up for getting runoff ballots to the overseas voters, then we have to have that 45-day window,” Raborn said. Although an idea floated in the Legislature to allow overseas voters to write in the preferred runoff candidate on the original ballot, Raborn said it “didn’t get any traction.”

The bottom line: The time between general elections and runoffs will be at least six weeks from now on because of new federal and state election laws that require more time be allotted for overseas Americans to cast absentee ballots. This campaign cycle was affected further because of the redistricting lawsuit.

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