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Texas' 2012 election calendar creates confusion

Despite efforts by state lawmakers to avoid a confusing election schedule in 2012, that may be exactly what many Texas voters face next year anyway.

Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill this summer tweaking the election laws to comply with new federal rules designed to make it easier for members of the military to vote.

A key side effect is that the measure pushes back runoffs from next year's March 6 primaries into May, when cities, school districts and other local entities hold elections. Early voting for primary runoffs would begin just days after the May 12 local elections.

Supporters of the legislative action predicted that the new rules would lead local entities to move their elections to next November or to the following May.

Instead, many cities and school districts are scrambling to hold on to the May 12 local election date.

If it works out, next year's election calendar could be confusing for many voters.

Over three months, some voters would face a primary, followed by city and school elections, followed by primary runoffs, followed by city and school runoffs. And then, of course, the statewide and national general election next November.

"We have overlapping election cycles, and I am very concerned that voters are going to be confused," Tarrant County Republican Party Chairwoman Stephanie Klick said. "With that confusion, it may impact turnout."

"There's going to be a lot of confusion," agreed Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Maxwell. "You've got three elections that voters are showing up for in the space of about eight weeks."

The debate in the Legislature briefly grew tense this year over how to fix the state's election schedule so that military and overseas voters could have 45 days to fill out their ballots as Congress has mandated. One area of concern was how to handle runoffs, which are typically about five weeks after an election. Under the new federal law, that's not enough time between races.

Lawmakers ultimately decided to keep the primary on the first Tuesday in March, partly out of fear that holding it later would diminish the state's relevance in the presidential primary. That pushes primary runoffs to May 22.

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