Tag Archives: municipal elections

We’re sitting out these important decisions

What do you know about that? I have known for a long time that Amarillo, Texas, where I used to live wasn’t the only city that produced pitiful municipal voter turnouts.

I have bitched about it for a couple of decades, trying — using my forum as editorial page editor of the local newspaper — to reverse that trend. It fell on blind eyes.

Hey, it could get worse. Amarillo could be as non-involved in this most important civic act as Dallas, just down the highway from where my wife and I now reside.

An analysis in the Dallas Morning News tells me that Dallas delivers the worst municipal voter turnout among the nation’s largest cities. How do Dallas residents do? Six percent of them vote on average for election of the mayor and city council members. Six percent!

I’ll take some pride in revealing that my hometown, Portland, Ore., votes on average at a 59 percent clip in municipal elections.

Dang, man! Why can’t we get more of us to the polls at these local elections, the elections that determine who runs local government, the level of government that has the most direct impact on our lives?

It’s not as though Texas doesn’t do what it can to make it easy for us to vote. We can vote early. The state opens up many venues for Texans to cast their ballots early. Still, I have laughed virtually out loud over many years when I hear local election officials brag about the large number of early ballots being cast ‚Ķ as if that means a greater voter turnout. It usually means nothing of the sort. It only means that more people are voting early, period.

As Michael Lindenberger writes in the Dallas Morning News:

Some studies have even suggested that voting makes citizens healthier, and not just because they can influence health policy. Voting itself, as proof of civic engagement, boosts one’s health, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin.

More than that, even, a city that relies on only a tiny fraction of its residents to vote leaves our leaders operating on such pencil-thin support it’s a wonder they are able to be effective at all.¬†

Take Mayor Mike Rawlings. He was elected for his second term in 2015 on a huge margin, but with just a bit over 30,000 votes.¬†That’s in America’s ninth-largest city, anchor to the fourth-largest urban area in the nation.

That’s ridiculous. A second term for 30,000 votes and change? What happened to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters?

This guy is speaking my language. It’s ridiculous, indeed!

I have tried to point out over many years that sitting out these important local elections leaves important public policy decisions up to the guy next door, or the dude down the street, someone who might — or might not — share your view of how your community should be governed.

Time to change this dismal voter participation

I applaud the Morning News for bringing this issue to the fore.

Will it matter? Will it bring more voters to the polls next spring when we elect our municipal officials in Texas? Probably not, but man, it needs to be said over and over again.

Negativity rearing its head down the stretch

Amarillo’s municipal election campaign never figured to be one conducted¬†entirely with sweetness and warm-and-fuzzy expressions of grand visions for the city’s future.

There’s been some negativity¬†expressed of late.

Moreover, I’ve heard a bit of grumbling from some residents who dislike what they’re hearing.

Let’s hold on.

What I’m hearing so far hasn’t been of a destructive nature. It has challenged — in a couple of instances — assertions made by a couple of incumbents; both¬†councilmen, Elisha Demerson and Mark Nair, have responded to the challenges.

Amarillo Matters enters the fray

The political action committee formed to help shape the discussion has decided to weigh in. It has endorsed a slate of candidates, calling for an entirely new City Council to be elected on May 6.

There’s been some push back against some of the recommended candidates. Again, it’s nothing to cause extreme angst and anxiety, although I’ve learned over the past two-plus decades living in Amarillo that the community often doesn’t respond well to any sort of negativity when it involves our friends, neighbors, fellow church attendees and parents of children who attend school together.

My hope is that this election produces a voter turnout that far exceeds the norm for our municipal campaigns. The way I see it, voters respond to negativity. It’s not an indictment, per se, of this community; I merely am stating what I believe to be an obvious trait among red-blooded American voters.

I still like the slate of candidates that Amarillo Matters recommends. I continue to endorse their general outlook and the approach they bring to City Hall governance.

As for some of the negative stuff that’s starting to get a bit of traction, that’s, too, is the longstanding nature of American politics — even at the local level.

Even in Amarillo, Texas.

Early voting begins today. Per my usual practice, I intend to wait for Election Day to cast my ballot. One never knows what could erupt down the stretch.

Trying to gin up voter turnout for May election

Back when I was working for a living as editorial page editor for two newspapers in Texas, one of my ongoing tasks was to boost voter turnout for municipal elections.

For the most part, I butted my head bloody — figuratively, of course — trying to get residents in Beaumont and then in Amarillo to get off their duffs and cast their ballots.

I no longer¬†work for a living, but I cannot put my desire to boost voter turnout to rest. That’s what this blog is all about

Amarillo is going to the polls on May 6. The city is going to produce another new City Council majority, with three incumbents choosing not to seek new terms. One of them is the mayor, Paul Harpole; the other two are City Councilwoman Lisa Blake and Councilman Randy Burkett.

That’s three out of five seats that will welcome new occupants. Change is afoot.

How will Amarillo voters respond? Since I no longer predict anything political, I’ll refrain from doing so here. If history is any guide, we are headed for another dismal turnout in a couple of months.

Single-digit percentage turnouts have occurred frequently during the 22 years I’ve been watching municipal elections in Amarillo. Oh sure, occasionally we get a “spike” into the 20 and 30 percent range. Those events occur usually when we have much-hyped and ballyhooed ballot measures.

Do you recall the two efforts to ban smoking indoors, both of which were defeated? Or how about the 2015 multipurpose event venue vote, which approved the MPEV? In 1996, Amarillo voted in favor of a resolution to sell the publicly owned Northwest Texas Hospital to a private health-care provider.

They all produced greater-than-normal turnouts. Were they great, as in great? My recollection is that the first smoking ban vote attracted a 30-percent turnout. Thirty percent is nothing to brag about. It means that seven out of 10 registered voters sat on the sidelines. Shameful!

At the risk of repeating myself, I am going to remind readers of this blog who happen to live in Amarillo of this fundamental truth.

It is that local elections matter in a tangible way far more than votes for president or members of Congress; they matter more than votes for governor; the Legislature, though, is a different matter, as our legislators decide on bills that could have an impact on our community.

City Hall is where these issues matter. It also matters who we elect to decide them. They set our local tax rates. They decide how many cops we have patrolling our streets. They determine the level of fire protection we get. They ensure our water flows, our lights shine and garbage gets picked up.

The municipal ballot will decide who fills all five of our City Council seats. All of those positions have contested races on the ballot.

Are we going to vote? Or are we¬†going to let our neighbors — some of whom we might detest — decide who makes these policies for us?

It’s your call. I’ll remind you later to be sure to vote.

Turnout good for Amarillo … but it’s still poor

Close view of a collection of VOTE badges. 3D render with HDRI lighting and raytraced textures.

Forgive the wet blanket I’m about to toss over some of the celebrations around Amarillo.

I cannot let this go.

The citywide referendum Tuesday that resulted in voters’ approval of a multipurpose event venue/ballpark was a positive step for the city. I’ve heard some mild crowing, though, from those who are extolling the turnout.

And what was it?

It was about 23 percent. Twenty-three percent of the registered voters in Amarillo — that’s 22,444 of them — cast ballots on an election that led local newscasts for weeks. Print media covered it like a blanket. Advocates for and against the MPEV were seen and heard all over town.

They placed ads calling on people to vote. They urged it in public forums and discussions televised on public TV.

And with all the fire ¬†and brimstone, hell and¬†damnation,¬†fury and ferocity — on both sides of the debate — four out of every five registered voters in Amarillo, Texas, stayed home. They didn’t vote.

Here’s something else to chew on. More than 13,000 residents voted early. That means about 9,000 of them voted on Election Day. I take little comfort in realizing that the Election Day turnout was so dismal.

Hey, it’s even worse when you consider that if you count the number of people who are eligible to vote, but who haven’t even bothered to register, the number plummets even farther.

Do not misunderstand this, though. I am glad the turnout was far greater than it usually is on these municipal matters. The regular City Council elections routinely produce single- or low double-digit turnouts. So, compared to what is customary, a 23 percent turnout does look good.

It’s all relative.

Friends and neighbors, we can do a lot better than that.