Time to get the vote out
Yea, I know the title sounds like I’m a little late to the game on this election and actually I may be. But, after following the numbers leading to today through the early voting period I decided it’s time to quit waiting for someone else to get the vote out. So I’m going to take initiative and start the conversation on how we can get voters more engaged in the process and elections. I’m on a quest to increase voter turnout over the next several election cycles, I’m going to start working with as many as I can in San Antonio to bring our city to the highest levels in Texas and possibly the country.
Nationally, voter turnout for the 2008 election was 64.36% with over 122 million voters, a drop from 1968 when voter turnout was 89.66%. In some countries, such as Australia, voting is compulsory and voter turnout is around 95% every three years. However, just making voting compulsory doesn’t solve the problem since Mexico, a nation with such a requirement has turnout in the 60% range.
Locally, Bexar County voter turnout in 2008 was only 3% less than the statewide total. In 2008, Bexar County experienced a 57% turnout in registered voters compared with 60% statewide. In 2008, Borden County had the highest turnout of the state with 82.42%. Bexar County ranked 169th out of 254 counties in turnout. Just bringing us in line with statewide average would take us to 121st or about halfway in the list of counties.
Now Borden doesn’t have a lot of voters in the county so reaching that high of a turnout number may not be that hard. In 2008, there were 438 registered voters in the county and 361 of those cast votes in the election. Looking at counties comparable to Bexar County, Collin County in North Texas may be a better comparison with 425,091 registered voters in 2008 and 296,583 casting votes in the election, giving them a turnout percentage of 69.76%.
If you look at state and local elections, that number starts to half along with the rest of the state. Statewide it’s a trend but, as you can see from Borden, not one that is realized in every single county. As a note, Presidio was the county with the lowest voter turnout at 33.7% but with only 5,213 registered voters. Hidalgo is the largest county with low turnout at 42.83% of 305,316 registered voters.
Today Travis County puts in place a new system for voting that will hopefully increase voter turnout throughout the county. Today, all polling locations will be open but instead of voters having to vote in their “home” precinct, they can vote in any voting location throughout the county. In other words, it’s like early voting on steroids. Thanks to technology and high speed networks, every single location can be a voting center for the county.
In San Antonio, one of the key vision areas of the SA 2020 plan is focused on Government Accountability and Civic Engagement. The vision for the area is as follows: “In 2020, San Antonio’s citizens are deeply engaged as elected leaders, business leaders, volunteers, and voters in the process of making government more responsive and accountable to San Antonians.”
One of the ways to get there, according to the vision plan, is to “Increase Voter Turnout.” That area has been assigned to the UTSA College of Public Policy, which has been working on several initiatives in the area. In the coming weeks, I’m hoping to sit down with the Associate Dean of the College to discuss what efforts are being planned and what performance measures are being put in place to measure achievement.
I’d like to also sit down with the leadership of all the county party organizations to see how we can engage them to help increase voter turnout. This is not a partisan issue and every party would benefit from increased turnout. Having the parties at the table would also help demonstrate that while we may disagree on policy, we can all agree on the need for a more engaged community in civic responsibility.
Finally, I have proposed the idea to Bob Rivard about engaging high school students in a series of civic discussions modeled along the lines of Constitution Café. Rivard recently facilitated a discussion of civic engagement with Dr. Christopher Phillips, author of Constitution Café. After the discussion, Rivard and I donated 24 copies of Constitution Café to the class of students from East Central High School for their discussion. It would be good to follow up with them and to start more Constitution Cafes in other high schools or colleges around the city.
Along with voter turnout comes voter engagement, including learning about the candidates, attending candidate forums, and engaging in public forums on issues. Today we have adopted a complacency model that discourages participation. We proxy our decisions and ideas to a few then turn around and gripe about those proxied actions. It’s time to change that trend and get back to civic involvement. But that should come as a part of the process, or maybe they drive increased turnout.
The bottom line is that things need to change, if we ever expect to see our city grow and prosper beyond where it is now. As things progress, I’ll keep you posted and probably engage several of you in the conversation. I’m not looking for “board sitter” type people but those who are willing to give some time, forego their party ideology for a bit (remember, this isn’t a red or blue thing), and help move the needle forward.
Until then, let’s get this election in the books and see what the future will hold.