Travis County voter turnout drops to 13 percent from 65 percent in 2016

Chase Karacostas

Travis County voter turnout dropped more than 50 percent between the 2016 presidential election and Tuesday’s local and constitutional election.

In 2016, Travis County had a voter turnout rate of 65.24 percent of total registered voters. On Tuesday, 13.41 percent of registered voters in Travis County showed up, more than twice the statewide turnout, which was just 5.77 percent. During the 2013 constitutional election, voter participation was marginally higher at 13.77 percent in Travis County and 8.55 percent statewide.

Reliable information on student voter participation for Tuesday’s election was unavailable at press time.

The ballot consisted of seven amendments to the state’s constitution and three bonds. Two of the bonds were for infrastructure in Travis County, and the third was a $1.1 billion bond for Austin Independent School District.

TX Votes, a non-partisan student organization that focuses on improving civic engagement, spent the last two months promoting the election and registering students to vote in Travis County.

Maya Patel, chief volunteer deputy registrar for TX Votes, said the low turnout on Tuesday was disappointing but not surprising. Local elections often affect voters much more directly because local government affects the day to day lives of citizens much more, Patel said.

“It’s kind of sad — I’d almost say pathetic, but it’s what we see almost every local election,” Patel said. “A lot of people just vote in presidential elections, which is great, but you have so much more of an impact in local elections.”

Kassie Barroquillo, TX Votes program coordinator, said the low voter turnout likely resulted from the lack of elected officials on the ballot and 2017 being an off year for major elections.

Barroquillo said the items on the ballot also were not particularly contentious for the average voter, which certainly did not help improve turnout. Regardless, Barroquillo said it is important for voters to get into the habit of voting in every election because it leads to them being more informed when larger elections — such as primaries and midterms — roll around.

“It really important that we create a habit of voting,” Barroquillo said. “Having the practice of knowing how to be informed is a big deal because when you have to start doing that for 30 plus items in a larger election, it can seem overwhelming.”

Because so few people vote in smaller elections like Tuesday’s, Barroquillo said each vote is worth many times more than a vote in a presidential election. Instead of each vote being one among millions, each vote is one among thousands. In some districts, it could be even be one among just a few hundred.

In the last few weeks leading up to the election and on election day, Barroquillo said, TX Votes spent a lot of time tabling, handing out ballot information and thanking voters whenever they walked out of the polls Tuesday.

Humanities and philosophy sophomore Bianca Canal said she was not planning on voting Tuesday until one of her friends reminded her that she should go, even if it is not that big of an election.

Canal said she was glad she decided to make time to go vote and said it can be frustrating when people who complain about the government rarely vote.

“I don’t regret (voting),” Canal said. “There’s a difference between saying you believe in democracy and actually acting on it.”