Upshur County Commissioners Court on Aug. 15 voted 3-1 to restrict early voting for the Nov. 4 general election to the county clerk’s normal business hours except for one day when voting hours will be extended.
County Clerk Barbara Winchester had proposed holding voting only during her normal office hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Oct. 20-24 and Oct. 27-31 at the county courthouse. But county Democratic Party Chairman Dan Miles Jr. urged voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on a Friday, and a motion to approve Winchester’s suggestion failed on a 2-2 vote.
The court then voted to approve the 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. hours, and voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31.
Winchester said she was suggesting 8 to 4:30 simply because of the cost of having longer hours. Saying “It’s a small election,” she asserted there was no reason for election clerks to sit for 12 hours.
She also said most counties do not have extended hours, and that anyone who couldn’t vote during the hours for early balloting could vote between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. election day.
Miles, however, argued that “one day (of extended-hour voting) is not gonna’ hurt” the county financially. He added that “the Democratic Party is definitely against” approving Winchester’s proposal.
When a citizen in the audience, John Melvin Dodd, asked if early voters could get a mail-in ballot, County Judge Dean Fowler replied they must meet certain qualifications to do so. Dodd then said those voters are the ones who might have a problem voting during the hours Winchester proposed.
Before Winchester spoke, Pct. 2 Commissioner Cole Hefner said he favored extended voting hours at the courthouse.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Mike Spencer and Pct. 3 Commissioner Frank Berka voted to approve the county clerk’s proposal, but Hefner and Pct. 1 Commissioner Paula Gentry opposed it. Rather than cast a tie-breaking vote, Fowler announced the motion failed.
Gentry said she wanted at least one day of extended-hour voting. The court then voted, with all commissioners except Hefner favoring, to accept Winchester’s recommendation with the exception that the court approved extended hours on Oct. 31.
While several contested races for state and federal offices are on the Nov. 4 ballot, the only contested race for county office is the one for county clerk between Republican Terri Ross and Libertarian Peggy LaGrone.
In another election-related matter, the court approved moving voting boxes 1 and 19 from the county rock building in Gilmer to the rural Indian Rock Baptist Church on Texas Highway 154 west of the city.
When Fowler said county Republican Party Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway requested the move, Miles said he would hate for the court to approve a change and have to rescind it. Gentry, however, pointed out the rock building is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In yet another election-related vote, the court approved the list of election judges and alternate judges proposed by Ridgeway and Miles. The appointments are effective Sept. 1.
In other business, the court approved payroll changes except for three proposed for the county jail. County Treasurer Myra Harris said no dates were given for some of the changes and “I don’t think we’ve ever had anything like this.”
The court also approved a standard form of agreement with Komatsu Architecture for work to be performed on the courthouse under a current Texas Historical Commission grant.
Fowler said Komatsu, which is charging a 10 percent fee, will work on the courthouse’s perimeter foundation. The 77-year-old building is expected to eventually undergo a major restoration to largely reflect its original appearance.
In other action Friday, the court: approved executing a 2015-16 fiscal year State Case Registry and Local Customer Service Contract with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Fowler said the county signs such a contract every two years on the district clerk’s behalf, and District Clerk Carolyn Parrott said it involves the system for child support payments.
The court also approved purchasing gravel off property owned by Mack Dean between the two motels on U.S. Highway 271 in Gilmer.
Fowler said the county would procure the gravel at a “substantially discounted” price from what it pays elsewhere, and County Road Administrator Andy Jordan said the cost of buying Dean’s gravel would be $11 per yard, compared to $18 or $19 elsewhere.
“We’re not straightening private property,” just “reclaiming the gravel,” Jordan said.
The court also voted 3-0 to approve the payroll with Berka, as he traditionally does, abstaining on that matter. Berka has complained that employees are paid before the court votes to approve it.