The lack of knowledge in local government jurisdiction is one of the top five obstacles listed for poor voter turnout in millennials, according to focus group study from the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to creating “informed and engaged communities.”
Some of the contested local offices up for election in the 2020 voting season are: county commissioners, sheriff, justice of the peace, constable and county court-at-law. The primaries for these positions will be voted for Tuesday, March 3.
Here is your guide to how local positions contribute to the community.
The Hays County Commissioners Court is composed of one elected commissioner per precinct and a county judge. Municipal offices have jurisdiction within their legally designated city limits. A county office like the Hays County Commissioners Court has jurisdiction of what is outside of legally designated city limits.
The general duties of the court is to establish precincts, build and repair bridges and exercise control over the roads within the county.
In addition, the commissioners court‘s duties entail adopting a yearly budget, calling and conducting elections, funding the county jail, providing for the support of the indigent population or residents who are unable to support themselves according to the Texas Constitution.
The county commissioners court divides the county into four precincts while city council members represent everyone who lives within city limits.
The county sheriff is an elected position that is put on the ballot every four years, performing a role similar to that of a police chief in a municipal department. The sheriff usually has jurisdiction over unincorporated areas of their county, while a police chief is in charge of areas within town or city limits.
The sheriff is also responsible for managerial office duties, including filling out paperwork on warrants and complaints, reviewing patrol logs, overseeing hiring and training of deputies, managing the county jail and forming and distributing the budget. The sheriff also facilitates public forums on policing matters and community outreach programs.
Operating the county jails and investigating crimes falls under the jurisdiction of the county sheriff as well.
Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler was elected and has been in office since November 2010.
Justice of the Peace
The justice of the peace is an office that is elected every four years. The Texas Constitution grants the justice of the peace jurisdiction in being the presiding officer of the justice court and the small claims court.
In criminal matters, the justice of the peace has jurisdiction over misdemeanor punishable by fine.
A justice of the peace may issue warrants for search and arrest, conduct hearings, administer oaths, perform marriages and must serve as coroner in counties where there is no provision for a medical examiner. Often, justices of the peace are called to the scene to declare affected persons deceased.
In addition, justice of the peace courts have original jurisdiction, the authority to accept a case at its inception, in criminal matters punishable by fine only.
Constables have all the powers and responsibilities of any peace officer, including writing tickets, making arrests, conducting investigations and filing criminal charges. In addition, they are responsible for serving and executing civil process and civil court orders.
In addition, constables assist other agencies with traffic control during traffic accidents and fires, assist with 911 emergency calls, searches for the elderly and missing children and escort service duties.
Hays County has five precincts in which each precinct has one constable. Voting for the constable office happens every four years.
The state legislature created statutory county courts at law in more populated counties, including Hays County, to help single county courts in their judicial functions.
The civil jurisdiction of most county courts at law varies, but is typically more than that of the justice of the peace courts and less than that of the district courts. County courts at law usually have appellate jurisdiction in cases appealed from justice of the peace and municipal courts.
Hays County Court-at-Law has three places with varying election dates. Voters can vote for Place 3 court-at-law in the 2020 election. Place 1 and 2 have terms that expire in 2022.
The state offices that are up for election in the 2020 voting season are: railroad commissioners, three members of the supreme court and the court of criminal appeals, eight members of the state board of education, 16 state senators, 150 state representatives and chief justice of court of appeals. These positions will be voted for also Tuesday, March 3.
More information on the election can found on Hays County Election website.