Turnout was light on Monday, the first day of early voting on the Austin school district’s $892 million bond proposal, and officials don’t expect it to pick up much. The small showing at the polls could be a key factor in a “fragile” election, one expert said, as the district seeks the biggest bond package in its history.
Just 3.8 percent of registered voters cast ballots early in May 2008, the last time the district put up a bond proposal. Overall turnout was 8.9 percent, and the bond passed with ease.
“That’s fairly typical of bond elections,” Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said. “I think it will be single digits.”
On the first day of early voting, 2,006 people cast early ballots Monday.
The light turnout makes every vote count more, and it could work for or against those advocating for the bond depending on what happens in the coming days, said Peck Young, a political consultant who worked with the district to pass bonds from the 1980s to 2004.
“It’s all down to the lick log here,” Young said, invoking an old ranching saying that refers to taking cattle to a salt lick before slaughter. “We’re now in that time frame, which in one of these low turnout elections, if everything goes smoothly, the turnout should be in the hands of the bond committee and they should be able to get enough votes out.”
Both sides of the bond campaign have turned up the volume recently.
A press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday featuring Mayor Lee Leffingwell and representatives from Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Education Austin, and Greater Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as parents, and community members who support the bond package.
Advocates say the bonds will provide crucial repairs and renovations to the district’s campuses — the average age of which is more than 40 years old — will build new facilities to alleviate overcrowding, and will expand and upgrade technology, science labs and athletic facilities.
The Travis County Taxpayers Union, which has publicly opposed the bonds, held a press conference Monday morning outside of the Randall’s at Braker Lane and U.S. 183, a popular early voting site. They say several architects and other contractors who could stand to profit by working on bond projects have given money to support the bonds.
Those arguing against the bonds have also questioned the wisdom of taking out loans to purchase technology that could be out of date before it has been paid off, and of using bond money to make smaller repairs called for in the district’s spending plans.
School district officials held a press conference Monday to answer questions from the media as early voting began. Officials reiterated the process it took to put together the bond package, which included a citizens bond advisory committee working for nine months on the proposal. District officials also explained how the cost estimates were done. The district’s practice is to budget twice the cost of brick-and-mortar construction to cover the soft costs, such as engineering, permitting and feasibility studies, and includes a contingency fund for unanticipated expenses.