San Antonio is about to complete its first municipal election with terms extended by the 2008 charter change to allow four two-year years over the prior limit of two terms. But, even with two more terms, voter turnout for San Antonio municipal elections continues to rank among the lowest in the nation, coming in a the bottom among the 22 largest cities. City leaders and politicos have been perplexed as to why San Antonio ranks so low, offering up all sorts of possible solutions. The latest, offered in a column by Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia, even suggested extended term limits might be the source of the problem.
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.
Today Victor Landa wrote a good column in the Express-News as a follow-up to last Saturday’s presentation of a Citizen’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities presented by graduate students at UTSA’s College of Public Policy. He picked up on a suggestion made by Phyllis Ingram, head of San Antonio’s League of Women Voters, that to increase voter turnout we should consolidate the elections to a single day. On the surface, that sounds like a good and rational idea. After all, if you just went in one time to take care of all civic business more people would turn out to vote. Kind of a one-stop shop for civic engagement. Sounds simple but in reality, it’s more complex than it might seem. More importantly, would it really increase civic engagement or just produce better numbers?
As we end up the final day of Early Voting for the municipal runoff elections in District 1 and 7 and prepare to go into Election Day this Saturday I decided to take a look at the voter turnout for the various districts from the past election to see what type of things might get people to vote. As many of you know, voter turnout for the General Election ended up around 7% of registered voters. That’s pretty dismal considering that several of the races were hotly contested races. Even with the premiere race in District 1, the voter turnout for that district ended up around 10% with the best precinct in that district coming in at around 24% (King William). With presidential races running around 60-65% and statewide races getting 25-30% what’s wrong with San Antonio voters at the local level?
I’ve been posting a series of blog entries about low voter turnout in San Antonio. My last entry tried to dive into some of the reasons why turnout is lower the more local the election. Today Gilbert Garcia of Plaza de Armas also dug into the issue, citing voter dissatisfaction as another possible cause. “Isn’t it possible that by not voting, people are already complaining about their government – albeit silently?” said Garcia in the article. Regardless of the cause, voters just aren’t voicing their opinion on municipal matters in the elections. If you dig a little deeper, though, low turnout could open the door for other voices to be heard, some that voters might find unacceptable or intolerable.
I’ve been diving into this issue of voter turnout, or lack thereof, in San Antonio and posed a question to some of my Facebook friends as to what they think the problem is. As you may know, the more local the race the smaller the turnout. So one reason I put out was the lack of media exposure for candidates at the local level. I’ve found that many people in San Antonio can name some of the possible 2012 presidential candidates but can’t even name their current city council member. So what will it take to raise awareness of local elections to the point where people will start turning out to vote?
This weekend has been an interesting one when you look at some of the events that are unfolding. In Austin, our Texas legislators seem to be having a problem trying to govern as they work towards passing a budget in which many will find fault. In San Antonio, as we wind down early voting for our municipal elections, voter turnout is one of the worst we’ve had in a long time. Based on prior history and current totals, only about 5-6% will vote in this year’s municipal election. That’s about 45,000 people making decisions for a city of over 1.3 million people, or 29 people relying on 1 person for their municipal decisions. So why are voters content with letting a few decide the future of San Antonio?
We live in one of the most incredible republics in the world. Since the founding of our country almost all citizens have been afforded the right to vote and chose their leaders. Through the passage of time all citizens of the United States now enjoy the freedom to vote one of their peers to hold office and serve those citizens in government. Yet, with all this freedom to vote and serve the vote of the American people continues to slide in numbers, leaving the choices of a few to govern the masses. If I had these odds in the lottery I’d be buying a ticket every chance I could. So why don’t Americans vote in elections?
Tomorrow is the election day for the Texas primaries with polling places open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. across San Antonio. If you haven’t already voted during Early Voting it is important you take the time to vote at your polling place in your respective primary. If you’re not sure of your polling place you can look it up at the Bexar County Elections website. The San Antonio Express-News usually prints a list of polling places to help out also. However, you’ll need to know your precinct but you can find that out also using the same website. Remember, you don’t need your voter registration card to vote in Texas. You can show up with your TX drivers license to vote. But it’s important you exercise your right to vote so you have a voice in Texas. Read more…
Several have commented on the low turnout experienced in the recent San Antonio municipal election. For those who may not have heard it was the lowest turnout for a non-incumbent election in over a decade at 11%. Greg Jefferson wrote in the Express-News that early turnout for the 2009 election was low and signaled an overall election turnout to be not much better. In a commentary Wednesday in the Express-News Jaime Castillo suggested some alternatives to helping increase turnout or reduce the voter roll only to active voters. I had written a piece last month trying to understand why San Antonians don’t turn out for local elections. The bottom line is that the less local, the bigger turnout. The more local, the smaller turnout. Read more…