by Andrea Flores

Most of the U.S population and Texas voters are probably familiar with the Texas Governor’s race happening this year, but there are many more offices on the ballot besides the Governor affect our lives on a daily basis. These races might even impact us more than the Governor’s role. There are different levels of government on the ballot: County, State and Federal – which are each important and in their own right. But today, we want to talk about the county.

County level elections impact us most because it is closest to home. These are the ones that reach us as soon as we step outside our door. So, it’s important we be informed on what each office’s power is in order to vote for progressive change. Below you will find each office on the county level! Stay informed, be an educated voter, go out and vote! Early voting starts February 14 (instead of going on a date with your significant other, maybe go and vote with them). 

Even though at MOVE we’re always preaching about voting locally and doing this democracy thing at the most grassroots level, we admit, what our county level officials actually do in Texas isn’t always clear. What is clear, once you do know, is that we can’t ignore these down ballot races.

We hope after reading this, you can feel a little better about these offices while at the ballot box and a little less “WTF”.

Here is what you need to know about what’s on the ballot for the county level offices and how each office impacts you daily!

County Commissioners and County Judges

As a metaphor, County Commissioners are kind of like the city council members of a county and a County Judge is kind of like a mayor!  Elected for 4 year-terms, county commissioners are responsible for overseeing the county’s management and administration, representing county interests at the state and federal level, and making decisions over county budget and finances. This includes passing legislation and policy impacting local issues like:

  • Elections & voting
    • How much poll workers are paid
    • Where polling locations are
    • Voting hours & which sites you’re eligible to use when
    • Overall budgets for each election
    • Overall budgets for elections departments
  • Climate Crisis
    • Allocating federal disaster funds and climate infrastructure subsidies
    • Creating climate plans and budgeting for climate adaptation programs like home weatherization county residents can apply for
    • Fund job retraining programs for workers to ensure a just transition as we work to phase out fossil fuels and move towards renewable energy

Justice of the Peace Court

Justice of the Peace Court, you’d think most of their activity is peaceful right? Well, not always and it’s not that simple. You may want to pay extra attention to these candidates because JP courts oversee things like:

  • Determining whether or not tenants will be evicted in landlord-tenant disputes
  • This court has jurisdiction over debt claims, evictions, landlord/tenant disputes, etc. 
  • A justice of the peace may issue search or arrest warrants
  • Has jurisdiction over small claims matters
  • Hears traffic and other Class C misdemeanor cases punishable by fine only
  • Hears civil cases with up to $20,000 in controversy
  • Hears landlord and tenant disputes

The Civil Court at Law

Civil Courts are kind of like those courts you see on TV. Technically these courts manage, direct, supervise, coordinate and plan the operations of courts. Elected for 4 year-terms, the Civil Court at Law is responsible for assisting the judiciary in making certain decisions, except those judicial decisions by law to be made by judges. When it comes to the types of decisions they oversee, this where you may be familiar with their reality TV counterpieces. But we don’t make light of it because those decisions impact people’s paychecks, family structures, and life stability.  Here are some of the things they oversee:

  • Civil Court judges can order you to pay money or a fine, or make decisions about your family or your home
  • Cases that go to civil courts can cover a housing case such as for eviction or foreclosure, a family case such as divorce or custody
  • Debt or bankruptcy, or when someone sues for money because of damage to property or personal harm

County Clerk

County Clerks are really important to MOVE Texas because in a lot of counties in the state, this office runs elections.​​ This means if election information is hard to find or hard to navigate on your county website, you might have to take it up with your county clerk depending on where you live. Or, if you are interested in seeing a polling place added to a local college, your county clerk is a key player in deciding those location assignments (if your county does not have a separate Elections Administrator). Okay, now that we’ve got our favorite thing, elections, out of the way, here are some of the other powers that a County Clerk possesses:

  • Issues marriage licenses
  • Serves as chief elections officer in most counties
  • Acts as a recorder and custodian of important public records

Criminal Court at Law 

If you commit a misdemeanor or felony crime, the judicial philosophy of your Criminal Court judge really matters. These judges play a sometimes quieter role in mass incarceration at the local level, depending on how punitive they believe the judicial system should be. Reform judges may support alternatives to jail via diversion programs and believe that the courts are implicated in the need for system wide change. They have the power to set bonds, refer those on their docket to “special courts,” and sentence punishment. Just some misdemeanor crimes, ranging from class A to class C, covered by this court include:

  • Theft of property
  • Possession of marijuana of up to 2oz
  • Drunk driving
  • Graffiti

County Constable

Another key role in the criminal legal system locally in Texas are county constables. They have following powers and functions as a licensed “peace” officer’ including:

  • Issues traffic citations
  • Serves warrants 
  • Serves temporary restraining orders
  • Serves as bailiff for Justice of the Peace Court
  • Property owners using constables to help evict tenants who have not paid rent 

Pay attention to these offices as well

Probate Court

In probate proceedings, the court has the power to: 

  • Issue warrants and processes necessary to compel the attendance of witnesses
  • The basic role of the probate court judge is to assure that the deceased person’s creditors are paid
  • Oversees the distribution of property of a person who has died
  • Oversees conservatorships

District Clerk 

The District Clerk serves  as the custodian of all records for the District Courts. They index and secure all court records, collect filing fees, and handle funds held in litigation and money awarded to minors. In keeping with the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, they ensure things like a trial by your peers can actually happen. They have the following responsibilities:

  • Coordinates the jury panel selection process. 
  • May process passport applications.

County Treasurer

The county treasurer oversees county finance and is charged with  safekeeping and investing county funds. This includes the maintenance and reconciliation of all checking accounts under the care of the county treasurer and the disbursement of funds

  • Receives and deposits all county revenues
  • Disburses funds upon the order of the Commissioners Court
  • May prepare the payroll

Each election is important and no matter the race, they play a role in our lives at every single level. We hope you learned a little about how County level elections are closest to home and the everyday bullsh*t.

Don’t forget to keep Pushing P by voting in the Primary Election next week!

Andrea Flores
Andrea Flores (she/her) is the Dallas Advocacy Organizer for MOVE Texas.