The district had the option to join Harris County next year to conduct a joint election, though commissioners ultimately decided to hold the election on their own.
According to Monica Garza, an attorney with Radcliffe, Bobbitt, Adams and Polley PLLC who provides legal counsel to the district, Harris County does not usually hold elections in May during even-numbered years because the county does not typically have any items on the ballot. Next year, however, two constitutional amendments will be up for consideration, thus requiring the county to hold an election.
Garza expressed concerns about the district holding its election independently because the availability of poll workers may be diminished with Harris County also holding an election at the same time.
“There are a pool of poll workers that work for [Harris County],” Garza said, noting Harris County employed roughly 750 poll workers for this year's May 1 election. “Now that the county is having a joint election, I’m more than positive that they’re going to sweep up that pool of poll workers.”
Garza noted that if the district did want to run its own election, commissioners needed to start looking for poll workers as soon as possible. She also said commissioners should consider bumping up the poll workers' pay rate to incentivize them to work for the district instead of the county.
According to Garza, running a joint election with Harris County would cost the district a flat rate of $2,500, plus $1.05 per every registered voter within the district’s boundary, which she said would come out to roughly $365,000.
Commissioner Kevin Brost raised concerns about the cost of running a joint election, noting the district recently spent $150,000 on new voting equipment that was going to be used in the May 2022 election.
“We budgeted $250,000 for the election,” Brost said. “So, we’re already $100,000 over what we expected to do to run our own, plus we’ve already bought the equipment that we’ve invested in.”
Brost also pointed to difficulties Harris County officials faced on the night of the Nov. 2 election when poll workers at some voting locations ran into technical issues that caused longer voting lines and delays.
Commissioner Karen Plummer agreed that Harris County election officials had run into issues, but she said the district could find itself in a similar situation if it ran its own election.
“If we can’t get poll workers, we would have the same problems,” she said.
However, Brost remained undeterred.
“We can [find poll workers],” Brost said. “They’re going to come for us at $1 an hour more and do a tenth of the work.”
Garza said that despite catering to a smaller area, the poll workers would have more responsibilities if they chose to work with the district instead of the county.
“The problem is that the county has drastically more poll workers, and they also have staff that assists with preparing the ballot-by-mail packets that are being sent out and preparing the binders for those registered voters,” Garza said. “When the district runs its own [election], that's all the poll workers, so it’s actually more work.”
Additionally, ESD 11 General Counsel Regina Adams said the district could potentially face Voting Rights Act violations if it was unable to secure enough workers to run the polling locations.
“It can create a potential Voting Rights Act violation if you reduce the number of your polling places by half, or even a third, without a legitimate reason,” Adams said. “Not being able to staff [polling places] isn't a legitimate reason.”
Adams also noted the district would see a substantial decrease in legal fees if commissioners voted to join the Harris County election.
“Our fees go down drastically because we're not having to train election officials,” Adams said. “We're not having to be a point person for them to contact with legal questions. That all goes to the county.”
ESD 11 commissioners ultimately voted 4-0 to run the election themselves, with Plummer abstaining from the vote.
Brost and Commissioner Fred Grundmeyer will be up for re-election in May.