Friday, May 25, 2007

Voter Turnout

I keep hearing people complain about the "low voter turnout" for the last election and blaming it for the failure of the bond issues. In a city of 90,000 why did only about 10,500 people vote on these issues. Let's take a closer look.

First off, 90,000 is the total population of San Angelo, not the number of people who could vote. You have to remember that those younger than 18 can't vote. Then add in those that have lost their voting privilege for felony convictions or mental disorders. Add in those that aren't here legally or haven't been here long enough to be residents, and you end up with around 55,000 eligible voters. According to the city website, there were 51,686 registered voters in the last election. Of that number, 27% voted. This is the highest turn out for a spring election in at least 10 years. This is higher than the 21% that turned out for the last sales tax election, a very hotly contested issue. Texas averages about 14% as a state for spring elections. Even our last November election only had 33% of those registered vote. We have to go back to the last presidential election before we break 50%. Off year and non-general elections just don't get much turn out.

The reality is that this last election had a much higher that expected turn out. I am sure the mayor's race was a factor, but it seems the big issue was the school bonds. Our local voters don't usually go to the polls in the spring unless there is something on the ballot that really grabs their attention. Normal spring elections are a yawn, so they leave it to the die-hard voters to decide the issues. This spring, the SAISD information campaign grabbed the voters attention. They turned out in record numbers. The results tell what they thought of the information campaign.


  1. A couple of points I'd add on this. The statewide average turnout was 7%. At nearly 4 times that, we obviously had a major interest driver, city wide there were only two. Though I personally supported Lown, I have to say the driving issue on turnout this time was the bond.

    Another thing that people from the "old school" are still adjusting to is the rate of registration of eligible voters. In Tom Green County, it is near, if not above 90%, an unheard of figure a generation ago. Back then reform or minority candidates often incorporated registration drives into their campaigns, today that is mostly a waste of time.

    Credit, good or ill, goes to motor voter, the law that means people get a registration form shoved at them basically anytime they interact with gov't. Driver's license, library card, WIC, whatever. As I explained to School Board last Monday, it also gives political novices completely unrealistic expectations. Of the 51,686 on the rolls, I told them you can probably mentally toss at least 15,000 of those as Motor Voter registrations. I mean toss, in the sense that these are politically inert people. They never registered or voted before, they filled out the card because it was thrust at them along with a lot of other papers. Some people think it is required, some don't fully undertand what they are signing, and most such people have no more intention of voting now than they ever had before.

    The one concrete result is that is raises the bar on number of signatures to be obtained for an initiative and referendum item to make the ballot. I leave it to the reader is this a good or bad thing. The last sucessful I&R was the precinct 4 in town wine and liqour measure, which cost nearly $15 per affirmative vote, mostly in pay for signature gatherers.

  2. is there anything better than texas politics, even at the local levels? yee-ha!

    i'm a newbie to the site, but will be back.

  3. No matter what the reason, the larger the voter turnout, the more the vote represents the real wishes of the people. Kudos to San Angelo for telling the SAISD that the proposed Bond was not wanted.

    I personally think the voters just thought it was too expensive. The School Board may need to stop spending money on expensive consultants and start thinking and working harder to get more value out of school money they have. The people of San Angelo have to make every penny count and so should the school system.