Thursday, February 25, 2010

May election is creeping up on us - watch out for the new position-based process

Subtle changes of process may be evident when you go to the polls this coming May in The Woodlands Township elections. Recent legislation changed the way nominees will be elected here. On May 8th, the Township election will not select the top vote getters at large, as was done in the previous election. It will instead be the winner of each of the new four at-large positions, i.e. the candidate who wins position 1, candidate winning position 2, etc will be on the board. Now how does one select a position to run for? Good question, responded some officials. The timing of application submission goes hand in hand with what strategy to select in campaigning. So to start, four candidates submitted their forms as soon as the process began. Generally speaking, one candidate chose to run for each position, like dominoes, occupying different spaces. None of the first runners elected to run against the other. So one assumes that the incumbents communicated with each other and chose to be separated into each of the four positions. That would make sort of a coalition, but it does not establish much except to make sure incumbents do not run against each other. This is the first time to elect by position, therefore incumbents filing for those four positions makes sense. There is nothing wrong with that as far as I can see; it is simply the effect of the changed law.

Instead of individuals competing each election, it becomes a system of challenging incumbents, not necessarily aligned on political boundaries or platforms. This is what happens in city elections when council candidates are elected by district. They have challengers to their positions. 

The hometown feel of our community is changing with the legislation passed in the last session of the Texas Legislature. Like I say, it is neither good nor bad, just a change, looking down from 1000 feet up. Some residents were suspicious of the change and others were very critical of it, but the arguments against it have not been strong. I question the process but will wait til the end of this article to present my own thoughts.

In the prior election, some people observed weaknesses in the free-for-all at-large-position process. When voting, you chose three from the candidate list who you wanted on the board. Sounded like the top three would just naturally rise to the top. Yes, but you could have been canceling out some of your own vote. I heard several people voice a concern about that. For example, take the scenario below:
You cast all four of your votes.
Candidate #1 - receives 4 votes, you did not vote for this candidate
Candidate #2 - receives 3 votes, your vote included
Candidate #3 - receives 3 votes, your vote included
Candidate #4 - receives 3 votes, your vote included. You wanted this candidate to win most of all.

If you had cast only one vote, for candidate #4, your preferred candidate would have won, given the same results from the others.  The result would then have been:
Candidate #1 - 4 votes , yours not included
Candidate #4 - 3 votes, yours included
Candidate #2 - 2 votes, yours not included
Candidate #3 - 2 votes, yours not included

A different outcome.

Bill SB2515 has these changes to the original legislation:
" (2) an election shall be called for the uniform election date in May of the next succeeding even-numbered year after the election held under Subdivision (1) of this subsection, for the election of four directors by [ add "position"] [cross out "at large"]. Each of the [The] four candidates [receiving the highest number of votes shall be] elected shall serve for a term of two years;"
- and -
" an election shall be called annually thereafter for the uniform election date in May of each year for the election by [add "position" ] of either three or four directors, as appropriate, to serve two-year terms."

Now with the conflicting vote risk removed, each voter can rest assured that his own votes do not affect his own selected candidates negatively.

In a positioning move for the election, the executive committee met last month and decided on names for the four positions to be put on the ballot. They named them "Position 1", "Position 2", etc etc. Each candidate will be allowed to run for one and only one position. A position is not marked by village, demographics or population. It is merely an arbitrarily named position, elected by the majority of at-large votes for that position.

I asked for the rationale behind our at-large position method, and have received a few responses. There were some interesting and relative answers by officials, but nothing from our Austin representatives, nor anyone who actually made the decision to write this new method into law. Therefore I will use what I have, since the rationale presented seems appropriate for the question asked.

It is believed by some that the old way facilitated groups or slates of candidates to run. It could then be a popularity schema, votes going to those who ran together, partied together, or had common ideas or lifestyles in common. They would naturally group together and even develop strategies together, maybe not on purpose, or maybe so. The new method would promote individuality and attract opponents to counter that individuality. Therefore, it would encourage those possessing the highest skills, enthusiasm  and savvy to compete for a specific job (even though it does not pay anything). That would seem to be in the best interest of the public. It would promote more focused debates among those running for a single position rather than everyone debating everyone running for the positions that are up for election.    

Coupled to that, one would assume there is rationale against geographic districts being established here. Indeed there is an argument against that. Should we pit geographic area against geographic area in the routine operation of the Township? If the Township was divided into geographic positions, it is feared by some that the mere fact of having area representation would detract from governing in meetings and in the voting process, for show and political reasons. Since the demographics of each area is homogeneous, a districting method would seem counter productive. You would want the board to act in unison on most issues. There is a lot of work to do. Quibbling and bickering on who is getting what and special area interests should be minimized in debate and in decision making, not saying that an area consideration be tabled, but be considered as part of the whole, not represented and defended by a board member's residential location. The new way encourages team decision making for the benefit of the whole and not special interests in geographic areas. Normally, districting is put into place to represent the interests of minority groups. We don't have the distribution of any minority in any special place in The Woodlands.


Basically I agree in part with the view that in theory, we are ethnically and racially homogeneous. I also agree that we need unity of purpose and efficiencies on the board of directors.The entire community has been designed to prevent areas from being ethnically or racially overweight.  That was part of the master plan. From what I know, Hispanics, for example, are spread throughout The Woodlands. I do however have an instinct on some demographics that are prevalent in some areas. For example, there are probably lower median incomes in the WCA part of The Woodlands (eastern) vs the TWA part (western). Additionally, the median age of a resident is likely higher in the WCA villages than the TWA villages. Age of the communities also play a role in the spacial demographics and necessities of areas. For example those living in Grogans Mill and Panther Creek have issues with aging streets and pathways, while those to their west may be more concerned about filling in missing links in pathways and planting trees.

Generally, cities have at-large positions and area positions. I personally believe it would be to our advantage to have three area positions and four at-large positions. That would be like a city government and would promote more trust in the community on where being represented. Having area districts enable lower cost campaigns and less effort to run for a position.

Saying that, we also have village associations to help in representing residents to the board. I have to wait to see how this works out. The villages have no voting power or authority, but resident issues are and will continue to be heard by the board. Therefore there are residents elected to village positions having significant influence on the board's decisions. This in my opinion should offset any representation issues.I hope residents partner with the board of directors to take the village associations more serious and demand that the voices in the associations be heard. That is where local issues should be brought forward. It is my opinion that the president of each village association should be charged with making local representation be heard. We are positioned to do this. Let's make it work!

Finally, it seems that in order to be constitutionally aligned with tax representation, there would be area representation. A  government by and for the people means that an equal  population-based tally of will is the only way to determine how tax dollars are to be collected and spent. Maybe we have that in our current law, maybe not. I am not a lawyer. We seem to be in a gray area of legal interpretation, from what I hear. So onward on the path to May 8th. Let's see what happens. The positions remain open for additional candidates.

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