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Mandatory ISD Joint Elections FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding and Mandatory Joint Elections For School Districts

The joint election section provides as follows:

Education Code Section 11.0581 provides:

  1. Sec. 11.0581. JOINT ELECTIONS REQUIRED. (a) An election for trustees of an independent school district shall be held on the same date as:
    1. the election for the members of the governing body of a municipality located in the school district;
    2. the general election for state and county officers;
    3. the election for the members of the governing body of a hospital district, if the school district:
      1. is wholly or partly located in a county with a population of less than 40,000 that is adjacent to a county with a population of more than three million; and
      2. held its election for trustees jointly with the election for the members of the governing body of the hospital district before May 2007; or
    4. the election for the members of the governing board of a public junior college district in which the school district is wholly or partly located.
  2. Elections held on the same date as provided by Subsection (a) shall be held as a joint election under Chapter 271, Election Code.
  3. The voters of a joint election under this section shall be served by common polling places consistent with Section 271.003(b), Election Code.
  4. The board of trustees of an independent school district changing an election date to comply with this section shall adjust the terms of office of its members to conform to the new election date.
  5. The joint election agreement allocating expenses as provided by Section 271.004, Election Code, must provide that a school district is responsible only for the proportion of election expenses that corresponds to the proportion that the number of registered voters in the school district bears to the total number of registered voters in all political subdivisions participating in the joint election. This subsection applies only to a school district:
    1. that has territory located in at least four counties, each of which has a population of less than 55,000; and
    2. no part of which is located in a municipality.

1.   Our school district's election schedule is a result of litigation.  Should we change this schedule?

You should not depart from a court-ordered plan or other plan that is a result of litigation, without first reviewing the situation with your local legal counsel.  If you are currently electing officers under a court-ordered or court-approved plan, you should not depart from this plan without further legal review.

2.   What if the school district wants to use the May date, but has difficulty finding municipal elections within their boundaries?  If there is even one city, is that enough?  Is a city partially within the boundaries of the school district enough for a joint election partner?  Must they have agreements with additional cities or other entities?  What if the city cancels their election?  What if the city uses the May date, but doesn’t completely "match" the school district schedule?

Under Education Code Sec. 11.0581, a school district must have joint polling places with at least one incorporated city at a minimum (or choose the county options).  Once this minimum requirement is met, anything else the school district wants to do with any other political subdivisions is based on agreements with other governing bodies pursuant to Chapter 271, Election Code.  Currently, Chapter 271 of the Texas Election Code authorizes any two or more entities in the same county to enter into a joint election agreement.  Therefore, the school district may have a joint election agreement with a city or other authorized partner that is only partially contained in the district.

We note that many smaller cities have cancelled their elections so often, for so many years, that not everyone in the community remembers their schedule.  Whether the city cancels an election is not at issue.  If the school district creates a joint election agreement, and the joint election partner entity cancels, the school board has done everything they can to comply.

If the city and ISD schedules do not match, here is what the school district will need to look for.  The ISD must have a joint general election with the city every ISD general election date.  However, the city can have their general election alone without the ISD.  For example, if the city has annual elections in May and the ISD has biennial elections in May, the ISD would match up every time.  The reverse would not work.  If the ISD had annual elections, and the city has biennial elections, the ISD will need to change to ensure a joint election every time.

We have also been asked for a more precise interpretation about situations when different single-member districts are up for election (i.e., the political subdivisions as a whole overlap, but the SMD’s up for election that year do not).  The short answer is that we think that for purposes of complying with the Education Code Section 11.0581 joint election mandate, it is sufficient if the two political subdivisions as a whole overlap, so long as the common polling places on election day are convenient to the voters.  (Remember that in the case of an ISD joining with a city in November elections of odd-numbered years, you will have less flexibility; the county will still choose polling places.

3.   We are close to deciding which entity we want to partner with on the joint election agreement.  Does that mean we must match polling places everywhere on election day?  Who makes the decisions?

Once you have made a joint election agreement, you will need to make decisions about the voters' convenience as part of the details of that agreement. Chapter 271 of the Election Code provides that you can share some election day polling places and not others.  The purpose of a joint election is voter convenience, and this is not served if some voters must travel too far from their residence just to go to a joint polling place.

Generally, in a traditional polling place situation (as opposed to countywide), you you should have joint polling places to the extent your the same voters are served.  Chapter 271 allows voters to go outside the usual boundaries in order to go to a joint polling place, as long as the joint polling place can adequately and conveniently serve the voters.  For more details on the polling place rules, see Chapter 271.  For more about the ballots, see below.

As to the decision-making authority, for a May election, the governing bodies decide the polling places as part of the agreement, in accordance with Chapter 271.

For a November election, the county will determine the polling places, and the other entities must use those polling places to the extent they have voters in common .  As a practical matter, if you think the county is choosing a polling place when you know of a better alternative, we encourage you to inform the county in a timely manner.

NOTE: In a countywide system, voters can go to any polling place in the county on election day. This means when the entity is also using the county polling places, their ballot must be at all the countywide polling places.

4.   What about joint ballots?  Voting systems?  Election workers?

We do not read the new law as a mandate for joint ballots.  We read the law to require joint polling places on election day at a minimum; remaining election issues will be worked out by the parties to the joint election agreement.  For example, you may have some joint polling places with both ballots available (joint ballots or separate ballots) and at the same time have some polling places where only the school district voters are served and not the city.

Pursuant to Chapter 271, Election Code, two or more entities in a joint election agreement can decide whether to have the same group of workers work both elections.

5.   Last year we "contracted" with the county when we had an election.  Is that enough?  What's the difference between contracting and having a joint election?

As noted, a joint election agreement is adopted pursuant to Chapter 271 of the Texas Election Code.  Any two or more political subdivisions in the same county conducting elections on the same day may enter into an agreement approved by their governing bodies.  The contract provisions authorize a county to contract to provide election services pursuant to Sections 31.092-31.100, Election Code.  A county may contract to provide services even if the county itself is not having an election.  Additionally, there are leasing provisions through which you may lease equipment from another entity, but not other services.

We often see entities achieve the same results as a joint election agreement with the county through a combination of a joint election agreement and an election services contract.  What is important is to remember the intent of joint polling places, serving a minimum of two elections.  For example, if a school district merely contracted with the county to provide equipment and other election services in May, but did not have joint polling places with an authorized joint election partner, this would not be enough to comply.  For purposes of this FAQ, we are using the vocabulary of joint elections.

We hope this has been helpful to you.