By Andy Sevilla
Hays County Commissioners delayed action on a proposed electioneering ban that would have regulated political signage and the posting and distributing political literature on county-owned property.
The proposed rules would have limited the number and height of political signage on county property and where it could be placed. The policy would also regulate electioneering on county-property that is beyond the 100-foot electioneering-free perimeter called for by state election law, when such property is used as an election-polling place.
Hays County Pct. 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant said in his draft policy he was proposing the “reasonable” measures to help reduce safety concerns, prevent damage to public property and ensure the property is available for the public.
“I know that in Dripping Springs we had situations caused by lack of clear information that created pretty stressful circumstances during the last election,” Whisenant said last week when the court first deliberated the new rules. “I think elections should be as least stressful as possible.”
The proposed policy change would not affect polling places on school, church or other property.
John Leonard, Chair of the Hays County Democratic Party, told commissioners during the citizen comment period Tuesday that he was concerned the new rules were proposed out of a single incident last February in Dripping Springs where someone was uncivilized to a voter.
“Incivility is not prohibited,” Leonard said.
Many speakers during citizen comments highlighted the court’s deliberation of the electioneering regulation during a week proclaimed by the same court as Constitution Week.
“As each of you know by now, I am very concerned about the court regulating electioneering,” Kyle resident Lila Knight told commissioners. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should… I have no idea what you’re afraid of that would make these regulations, and I believe these regulations are unconstitutional.”
The Texas Election Code prohibits electioneering within 100 feet of an outside door through which a voter may enter a polling place during a voting period. The election code also states an entity that owns or controls a public building being used as a polling place may not, at any time during the voting period, prohibit electioneering on the building’s premises outside of the100-foot electioneering-free perimeter.
The code allows entities to enact reasonable regulations concerning time, place and manner of electioneering.
Whisenant’s proposed policy would prohibit any person from leaving any electioneering sign or literature on county property — when used as an election polling place — 12 hours before or during the early voting period through 36 hours after the polls close on election day.
The proposed rules also would make it a violation for any person to engage in electioneering on sidewalks, driveways or parking areas within one hour of and during the business hours of any county facility on the premises of a polling location.
“I’d be willing to consider taking a little more time with this to consider it more,” Whisenant said Tuesday.
However, he urged the court that he would like to have a policy in place by next June.