Starr County will have to hold off on plans to create new election precincts with more polling locations after officials there became aware of legal restrictions that prevent them from making those changes before the November general election.
Last month, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said the county would be splitting up the election precincts after the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) notified the county that they were in violation of the Texas Election Code.
Sec. 42.006 of the election code caps the number of registered voters per election precinct to no more than 5,000.
In a letter last month sent to Vera and Elections Administrator John Rodriguez, TCRP pointed out that the county’s Precinct 6 in Roma has about 7,406 non-suspense, registered voters while Precinct 10 in La Rosita has about 6,850.
“The County therefore violated Texas law by failing to split Precincts 6 and 10 and consequently assigning more than 5,000 registered voters to a single polling place in each of these precincts,” wrote Zachary Dolling, an attorney with TCRP.
Following the letter, Vera said he wanted to address the problem before the general election on Nov. 3 but the election code also restricts when counties can implement those changes.
Specifically, changes to the boundaries of precincts can’t take effect between a primary election and a general election for state and county officers, according to Sec. 42.033 of the election code.
There are some exceptions to this provision but a boundary change so that the precinct is in compliance with the population cap is not one of them.
“So for that reason we haven’t been able to,” Vera said on Tuesday. “But we’ve already looked into possibilities of how we’re going to split (the precincts).”
When the election is over, though, Vera said the county will begin working on those possibilities of splitting up Precincts 6 and 10 but also Precinct 2 in Rio Grande City which is nearing capacity with 4,659 non-suspense, registered voters.
“Precinct 2 has approximately 4,700 already so we might as well split that one also, now that we’re going to be doing the others,” Vera said. “Hopefully that will happen soon after the elections are over.”
To do that, Vera said the county is already working with the Law Offices of Rolando L. Rios — a San Antonio-based law firm — with whom the county initially contracted for the purpose of redistricting based off of the results of the U.S. Census.
“So they’ve been very helpful helping us through this, as far as coming up with some ideas as to where we need to divide,” Vera said.
As far as cost, the county judge said they would have to purchase equipment for the additional polling places and hire more personnel.
“I don’t think that’s too much of an expense and hopefully we get better voter turnout because people don’t have to wait so long,” Vera said, though an estimate of how much that would cost was not readily available.
“I think the cost would be justified,” Vera said.