Election policy could change in Austin ISD

District trustees will take action on two items tonight related to construction and design contracts for 2017 bond projects.

District trustees will take action on two items tonight related to construction and design contracts for 2017 bond projects.

A policy amendment that would shift the winning vote requirement from a majority to a plurality in Austin ISD trustee elections was discussed among board members Monday evening.

The office of the Texas secretary of state defines a majority as more than 50 percent of all votes, whereas a plurality occurs when the votes received by a candidate are greater than those received by an opponent, even if less than 50 percent.

Reasons for amending the policy include the cost burden and historically low voter turnout associated with runoff elections. Under a majority requirement system, if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, then a runoff election is required between the two candidates with the most votes.

According to the district, runoff elections, which are held in December, attract markedly less voters and can cost AISD thousands of dollars. For example, 89,874 voters turned out for the November 2014 general election, but 33,335 district constituents cast votes in the same year's runoff election, which carried a price tag of $203,174.

Trustee Julie Cowan, who was instrumental in researching the possibility of amending the policy, said the change could go far in saving the district money during a time of limited funding assistance from the state.

"It's some dollars we could be saving," she said. "It's something to be aware of in the future if the Legislature doesn't give us any [funding] relief."

Nearby school districts, including Eanes, Pflugerville, Georgetown and Leander ISDs, use a plurality system, Cowan said.

Some trustees worried the shift could disenfranchise minority groups. The general consensus was to wait on taking action until more research on possible outcomes is completed.

Texas statute states that school districts have the option to modify their election requirements no later than the 180th day prior to an election. Therefore, AISD has until May 11 to adopt a resolution rescinding the majority vote requirement.
By Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.