Travis, Hays see low turnouts in early voting for runoff elections


Highlights

Early voting turnout for runoff elections in Travis and Hays counties was slightly above 2 percent.

Cold weather and voter fatigue may have contributed to the low turnout, officials say.

One month after a record-setting, high-turnout general election, only about 2 percent of Travis and Hays counties’ registered voters participated in early voting for runoff elections, perhaps due to cold weather and voter fatigue, election officials said.

But the nippy weather didn’t stop 32-year-old San Marcos resident Aniekan Umobong from leaving work at UPS early to cast his ballot and meet candidates at the Hays County Government Center on the last day of early voting Friday.

“The two weeks of winter we get every year, it’s nothing. It’s just weather,” said Umobong, who was zipped into a red U.S. Soccer windbreaker. “But the (political) changes that can be made are going to last 365 days out of the year.”

In Hays County — where voters are choosing a new mayor and two city council members in San Marcos, a city council member in Buda and Austin Community College District trustees — just 2.3 percent of registered voters, or 2,754, made it to the polls. Mail-in ballots have not yet been tallied.

At the end of early voting in November, about 43 percent of registered voters in Hays County had cast their ballots.

Similarly, in Travis County, where voters are making choices on the Austin City Council’s District 10 race and Austin Community College District trustees, 2.8 percent of registered voters, or 17,269, cast a ballot, including mail-in votes (in person, 12,880 people made it to the polls).

Those totals are also a stark difference from early voting in November, when more than half of voters showed up before Election Day.

Election officials in Travis and Hays counties say the harsh weather may have put a chill on participation in early voting.

“On the 3rd (of December), we only voted 99 people that entire day,” said San Marcos City Clerk Jamie Lee Case about an early voting day that was cold and rainy. “We really thought that we would have more people because it’s a Saturday … but with the weather, it deters people.”

Two days of early voting were held on Texas State’s campus, where 566 people cast their ballots, making up 21 percent of all early voting in the county. Case said she was “thrilled” with the turnout.

During the last runoff election in San Marcos in 2011, she recalled, only 75 people came out to vote one day on campus and just over a hundred came out total. She attributed the higher turnout to efforts by on-campus groups to boost voter participation.

Case said she predicts overall on Tuesday about 1,000 will come out to vote, “but that’s optimistic.”

“I’m gonna give folks the benefit of the doubt,” she said with a laugh.

On top of the cold weather, Travis County elections director Michael Winn said the turnout that “pales in comparison” to November may be attributable in part to voter fatigue.

“This past year, we’ve had seven elections, and so I think voters are a little bit fatigued at the fact that, you know, we have so many elections going on,” Winn said, referring to four regular elections plus special elections and the runoff.

As far as what this might mean for Election Day next Tuesday, Winn said he’s predicting five percent turnout, or about 31,000 voters, but said it’s possible fewer people will come out than all of those that showed up for early voting.

Asked if that’s normal, Winn had a simple but knowing response: “Nothing is ever normal in elections.”



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