Travis County preparing for more choices, longer ballot this November

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on October 8, 2012 at 6:20 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 8 at 6:40 PM

AUSTIN -- Volunteers in Travis County are hard at work preparing for a big election and a big ballot.

"This ballot is, as we've talked about, is a little bit longer than the ones in the past," Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told KVUE Monday. "Our best guess is it's going to take voters about 12 to 15 minutes."

That's a few minutes longer than average, thanks to the addition of city and school elections to the November ballot. That means in addition to voting for president and federal races, Travis County voters will be asked to decide on everything from city council representation to multi-million dollar bond and tax proposals, including whether to raise taxes to help finance a new teaching hospital and medical school at the University of Texas.

"It's a little bit longer," explained DeBeauvoir. "But it's not going to be 'War and Peace.'"

While the county is getting ready, what about voters?

"I have seen some of them," Travis County voter Scott Mauer said about the various municipal proposals on the ballot. "I think a lot of people are talking about the presidential election and some of the more informed people are talking about the congressional election, but not too many people are talking about local politics."

With so much on the ballot, it can get a little overwhelming. The Travis County Clerk's website offers sample ballots with a listing of the races and proposals voters may be asked to weigh in on. When it comes to a detailed explanation of candidates and issues, the League of Women Voters regularly issues a voters guide to help voters with their homework.

"Our voters guide has over 50 ballot races discussed in it, and the most important ones for people to pay attention to in my opinion are the judicial races and the State Board of Education," said Susan Morrison, who sits on the state board of the League of Women Voters of Texas.

In addition to providing information on statewide races, the league's local chapter provides information specific to Travis County. A new website VOTE411.org provides video from candidates and information on even more races, in addition to enabling voters to see exactly which races will appear on their ballot based upon their address. Morrison says less glamorous items such as judicial races are no less important.

"All of us are sooner or later probably going to be affected by some decision made at a courthouse, whether it has to do with our voting rights or just a dispute with neighbors or within the city," explained Morrison. "So when you go to the courthouse you want to make sure that the person you've elected is fair and impartial."

"I feel like I should probably look at it before, but that's definitely not something I was thinking about," admitted Travis County voter Carolina Baumanas.

That longer ballot could mean longer lines on Election Day, and DeBeauvoir says that takes more election workers. While the county doesn't appear to be headed for a major shortage of manpower on Election Day, DeBeauvoir says the county is still accepting applications to help out. Those interested can call the county election office at (512) 238-VOTE. When it comes to helping reduce the election day rush, DeBeauvoir says voters can avoid it altogether by voting early.

"The best advice I can give to voters though is take advantage of early voting," urged DeBeauvoir. "You can go at the most convenient time for you. You could have that few minutes to just go through the ballot at your leisure."

DeBeauvoir says voters can also bring in notes and writing paper if they like, including the voting guide provided by the League of Women Voters, as long as materials do not advocate a position on any specific political race or issue. This election's guide also contains an extra section advising voters what may and may not be required when they arrive at the polls.

"There's been so much litigation about whether a photo ID is going to be required or not, and right now it's not going to be, that voters have a lot of trepidation, I think, about what to bring with them," explained Morrison, who warns that voters frustrated by apathy should never discount their impact. "Every vote does matter, and when somebody doesn't vote, they really give up their right to complain."

One thing's clear, this November will bring plenty of choices.

TRAVIS COUNTY SAMPLE BALLOTS

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF TEXAS VOTERS GUIDE

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS AUSTIN AREA

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