Austin’s early voting turnout for ride-hailing regulations surpasses 2016 primary turnout in first two days

Forrest Milburn

Nearly three percent of all registered Austin voters turned out to cast their ballots on the first two days of early voting for the May 7 municipal election, when Austinites will have the final say on recently approved ride-hailing regulations.

On both Monday and Tuesday, 2.52 percent of registered voters — or 14,788 people — turned out to vote at their nearest polling site, which included student voters casting ballots at the two sites on campus: the Flawn Academic Center and the LBJ Building, a mobile site. This is almost double the turnout seen in early voting leading up to the March 1 primary for president, when only 1.46 percent cast ballots.

As of Tuesday evening, 832 students had voted at the FAC and 227 had voted at the LBJ Building.

Proposition 1, the sole ballot measure in question, would repeal controversial regulations — particularly fingerprint-based background checks — approved by City Council in December and replace them with the minimal regulations written into city code by the council under Mayor Lee Leffingwell in 2014.

UT alumnus Huey Rey Fischer, deputy outreach director for Ridesharing Works for Austin, has been campaigning on campus with Students for Prop 1 the past few weeks. He said students are turning out to protect their safe ride home by getting rid of the regulations, which Uber and Lyft officials have said will force them to cease operations in the city.

“I care more about an ordinance that actually keeps my friends safe versus an ordinance that I found to be onerous and not actually in the public interest,” Fischer said. “The people I’m working with depend on Uber and Lyft to get us home safely.”

The measure’s wording has been criticized by many supporters and opponents, who argue it is confusing to average voters, because a vote “for” the measure means repealing the regulations and an “against” vote means solidifying them into law.

“The wording was a little unclear, but when I re-read it, I [realized] that if you vote for it, you are repealing the earlier December vote,” said classical studies freshman Michael Marionneaux, who voted Tuesday afternoon. “I did vote for it.”

Mayor Steve Adler announced Monday he is urging citizens to vote against Prop 1, arguing a vote against the measure would put the city and ride-hailing companies back at the negotiating table.

“I am confident that Austin’s reputation as a thoughtful, progressive, enormously capable city is secure,” Adler said in a statement. “After the election is over, we’ll need to be at our most innovative, creative and collaborative to simultaneously keep Uber and Lyft in town, keep Austin local, and best provide for material public safety choices.”