Round Rock City Council voted to not hold an election in 2020. Here’s why

As it stands, Round Rock voters will not cast a ballot for three city council seats and seven charter amendments until May 2021. (John Cox/Community Impact Newspaper)
As it stands, Round Rock voters will not cast a ballot for three City Council seats and seven charter amendments until May 2021. (John Cox/Community Impact Newspaper)

As it stands, Round Rock voters will not cast a ballot for three City Council seats and seven charter amendments until May 2021. (John Cox/Community Impact Newspaper)

Against the backdrop of public health concerns and logistical hurdles due to the coronavirus, Round Rock City Council in April postponed its May election. After seeking a number of different options, council voted again in July to further delay the election.

As it stands, voters will not cast a ballot for the three seats and seven charter amendments until May 2021.

Here is a look at how the events unfolded.

Feb. 14: End of filing period

Round Rock City Council comprises the mayor and six other council members. Members are elected at large to serve staggered, three-year terms. At the close of the filing period for what would have been the May election, six people had filed to run for three open seats.


Place 1

Council Member Tammy Young, who currently holds the Place 1 seat, announced Oct. 30 that she would not seek re-election.

  • Keith Chandler

  • Michelle Ly

  • Tina Steiner


Place 4


  • Will Peckham, incumbent

  • Frank Ortega


Mayor


  • Craig Morgan, incumbent


Feb. 18: Chandler withdraws

Keith Chandler withdrew from the Round Rock City Council race, according to the city's election filings.

March 18: Gov. Greg Abbott allows local May elections to be postponed

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation allowing political subdivisions to postpone May local elections due to the public health crisis.

"I strongly encourage local election officials to take advantage of these waivers and postpone their elections until November," Abbott said in a news release. "Right now, the state's focus is responding to COVID-19—including social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. By delaying this election, our local election officials can assist in that effort."

March 19: Travis County declares it will not support May elections

Travis County election officials—who provide voting booths, coordinate poll workers and tally results—said they would not conduct May elections.

The Travis County Clerk's Office in a press release recommended local political subdivisions postpone their elections until Nov. 3.

March 20: Williamson County declares it will not support May elections

The Williamson County Elections Department recommended that local May elections within the county be postponed, citing Abbott's proclamation.

Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis said the department would not hold any local elections in May and asked entities to postpone their elections.

April 9: City Council delays election to Nov. 3

Without support from Williamson and Travis county election officials, Round Rock City Council voted 7-0 to postpone the city’s election to Nov. 3.

The date of the election was the only change, per council’s vote. The decision did not reopen the candidate filing period.

April 20-28: Early voting would have taken place

April 24: Mayor sends letter asking for election alternatives

Round Rock, Cedar Park and 10 other municipalities reached out to Abbott to explore alternate election dates for postponed May elections.

Morgan sent a letter requesting Round Rock be allowed to conduct May 2 elections before Nov. 3. Morgan said the city would most likely conduct elections on a Saturday in August, if allowed.

“The most important duty and responsibility that an elected official has is to adopt a budget and establish a tax rate,” Morgan said in the letter. “Since Round Rock’s fiscal year begins October 1, the budget and tax rate must be adopted prior to that date. Members of the city council elected at a November election will have no say or input into these critical matters.”

May 2: Election day would have taken place

July 9: City Council postpones election to May 2021

With no response from Abbott on a request for an August election date, Round Rock City Council voted 6-1 to instead postpone the election to May 1, 2021. Council Member Hilda Montgomery cast the dissenting vote.

The date of the election is the only change, per council’s vote. The candidate filing period will not reopen.

Morgan, Young and Peckham will serve in their positions until the May 1 election. Candidates elected in May 2021 will then serve the remaining two years of the three-year term.

“No matter what decision, the term was going to be shortened,” Morgan said. “Terms were going to either be two years and eight months, two years and six months, or two years.”

Council's Place 3 and Place 5 seats will remain on the May 2021 ballot, as planned.

July 21: City attorney issues memo

In a memo dated July 21, City Attorney Steve Sheets explained the legal rationale behind council’s decision.

He argued that Abbott’s March 18 proclamation allowed but did not require local elections postponed from May to be held in November. Sheets further claimed the governor “does not have the authority to suspend duly adopted home rule charters or city ordinances.”

Round Rock’s charter stipulates that local elections be held annually in May. Thus, Sheets concluded that “once the city of Round Rock’s May 2, 2020 election was postponed as a result of the Governor’s and the County Election Officers’ actions, the Charter and Code of Ordinances provide that the election must then be held on the first Saturday of May, 2021.”

July 23: Residents react

Seven Round Rock residents spoke at a July 23 council meeting. Each expressed concerns about council’s decision to delay the election.

“There’s no good reason to not have it in November,” Round Rock resident Tracy McLain said during public comment. “I think it’s appalling and shameful, and it’s really voter suppression.”

McLain pointed to higher voter turnout during November elections as a reason to hold City Council’s election this fall.

“In this era of heightened awareness, of inclusivity, I am appalled at the vote of the six members of the Round Rock City Council to postpone the election of City Council members to May of 2021,” Round Rock resident Denise Gordon said.

Morgan reiterated his view of the importance of council members determining the city’s budget. With an August election date off the table, Morgan said November would be too late for a newly seated council to pass a budget and a tax rate this year. He also referenced the city charter as a reason for his vote to delay until May.

“I want to thank all the speakers for coming and sharing their concerns with the council,” Morgan said. “I understand their frustration. We’re all frustrated because we were forced to cancel our election in May of this year.”

Several individuals who spoke Thursday night quoted a staff attorney from the Office of the Texas Secretary of State as having said "any election held on a date other than November 3 will be void.”

Stephen Chang, director of communications for the secretary of state, confirmed on July 28 that the communication referenced in public comment did come from the state office. However, the secretary of state has not issued an official legal opinion on Round Rock delaying its May 2020 election to May 2021. While the office interprets and advises on elections issues, according to their website, the agency does not have the authority to void an election.

“The election in Round Rock, Texas, has been in May for decades," Morgan said. "This is not new. The voters through the charter—through the ordinance adopted decades ago—has always allowed it to be in May.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information about the Office of the Texas Secretary of State.
By Taylor Jackson Buchanan
Taylor Buchanan joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2018 after completing a master of journalism degree from the University of Texas. She worked as the senior reporter for Community Impact's Southwest Austin edition and is now the editor for the company's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition.


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