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A Longer, Costlier Grind for Primary Candidates

While no one disputes the intentions of the law, candidates and consultants say compliance with the MOVE Act has increased campaign expenses and shortened the time they can focus on the general election.

Ballot-by-mail clerk Chaundra Grattan organizes ballot packages at the Travis County Elections Division in Austin on May 19, 2014.

The primary runoff contests on Tuesday might be as much a test of voter memories as a referendum on which candidates made the most successful appeals to the electorate.

The state lengthened the party primary season in order to conform with a federal law meant to ensure that members of the military, their families and overseas voters can cast ballots.

While no one disputes the intentions of the law, candidates and consultants say it has increased campaign expenses and shortened the time they can focus on the general election. Some are talking about adjusting the campaign calendar.

When Texas voters go to the polls on Tuesday, 12 weeks will have passed since the March 4 primaries.

Texas previously scheduled runoffs five weeks after the primary elections. Ted Delisi, a Republican political consultant who has a client in one of the runoff elections, said that with the new dates, the runoffs were no longer an extension of the preceding primary contest, but campaigns unto themselves.

The greatest impact, he said, would be felt by the candidates who win runoff contests and have contested elections in November. When the runoff elections were in April, candidates had time to recover and raise money for the general elections.

“Now, you’re going to have candidates who are broke and exhausted,” which could affect the outcomes, Delisi added.

For example, state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, is locked in a runoff contest to keep his seat against Bob Hall. The winner in the safely Republican district does not need to worry about a general election fight. But Deuell said the runoff had taken its toll. “I’ll be glad when it’s over,” he said.

Deuell said the extended campaign had cost more, including an additional month of paying a campaign manager and a political consultant.

Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment, or MOVE, Act in 2009, in part, out of concern that military members might not have enough opportunities to vote. A survey conducted for a United States Senate committee concluded that ballots from a quarter of overseas and military voters were not counted in 2008. In Texas, about 18 percent of military and overseas votes were not counted that year.

The legislation requires states to mail ballots to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before an election. That required significant changes in the Texas election calendar, because neither the primary nor runoff elections were compliant.

Delisi said he had talked with some lawmakers about the possibility of tightening up the schedule “by just a couple of weeks.” Failing that, he said, lawmakers could also look at adding a few days to the early voting period for the runoff election.

More Texas voters are voting earlier. Almost 55 percent of Republican primary voters cast their ballots early this year, up from 47 percent in 2012 and 38 percent in 2010, according to figures from the Republican Party of Texas.

Early voting during the runoff elections lasts a week, half the time set aside for early voting in the party primaries. Also, the early voting period for the runoffs ends just before the Memorial Day holiday. Both factors could suppress turnout.

“If you have two and a half months” between the primary and runoff elections, Delisi asked, “does it make sense to have truncated early voting?”

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