Mayor Julián Castro takes an oath after filing for reelection at the City Clerk's office March 9, 2011. Paltry voter turnout is a norm in San Antonio. Castro was easily re-elected in 2011 and 2013, drawing 7.07 and 6.94 percent of registered voters ...
By Bruce Davidson, San Antonio Express-News
Photo: JOHN DAVENPORT /SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS
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Mayor Julián Castro takes an oath after filing for reelection at the City Clerk's office March 9, 2011. Paltry voter turnout is a norm in San Antonio. Castro was easily re-elected in 2011 and 2013, drawing 7.07 and 6.94 percent of registered voters, respectively. less
Mayor Julián Castro takes an oath after filing for reelection at the City Clerk's office March 9, 2011. Paltry voter turnout is a norm in San Antonio. Castro was easily re-elected in 2011 and 2013, drawing ... more
Photo: JOHN DAVENPORT /SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS
Will President Donald Trump’s election spur a new wave of political activism, particularly among those who are alarmed by his rise to power?
Probably. The marches around the nation on Jan. 21 showed that many Americans are motivated to become more involved citizens.
Will this heightened interest lead to major increases in voter turnout for municipal elections, such as San Antonio’s May 6 date to make mayoral, City Council and bond decisions?
That remains to be seen, but history indicates the San Antonio turnout likely will be anemic as usual.
After former President Barack Obama’s election and the push for Obamacare helped spawn the tea party movement in 2009, a crowded San Antonio mayoral ballot attracted a dismal 11.61 percent turnout. Former Mayor Julián Castro won his first term in that election, which featured significant opposition.
Castro was easily re-elected in 2011 and 2013. Those elections drew 7.07 and 6.94 percent of registered voters, respectively.
The 2015 showdown between Mayor Ivy Taylor and three well-known opponents drew 11.89 percent of registered voters.
Still, those eligible to vote have the power to reverse the trend.
A new wave of civic activism and voter participation would be welcome in San Antonio and across the nation. A recently released study by Portland State University (first reported in the Lone Star State by the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey) found low mayoral election participation in most of the country’s 50 largest cities.
“Turnout in 10 of America’s largest cities was less than 15 percent” in the most recent mayoral election, the study found.
Of the top 30, San Antonio was fourth from the bottom. Fort Worth and Dallas fared worse.
The study found that the median age of voters participating in San Antonio’s 2015 mayoral election was 63.
The researchers’ key conclusion was hardly a surprise. “The results show that in most cities few people vote in mayoral elections, and those who do vote tend to be older and more affluent than the population at large and less likely to be people of color.”
Any street-level election hack worth his or her salt could have confirmed that, but having the data in hand helps reinforce the message that we have a serious problem.
Here’s another key part of the researchers’ analysis of the national situation: “City residents 65 and older were 15 times more likely to cast a ballot than younger residents between the ages of 18 and 34.”
Apathy is a real problem, and worst among young people. Finding a way to inspire participation among all demographic groups is the hard part.
Researchers noted that 75 percent of the nation’s largest cities have their mayoral elections in odd-numbered years, and some cities have moved their city votes to the same day as the presidential or gubernatorial election.
That move increased turnout, but questions remain about whether it is reasonable to assume that presidential election voters have the time or inclination to study city issues simultaneously. And that alignment adds a stronger partisan dimension to nonpartisan municipal elections.
In the meantime, increased activism inspired by the national political situation is a positive development, and hopefully that inspiration will spill into city campaigns. San Antonio and other municipalities need all the voter interest they can get.
Whether you embrace or abhor recent national political developments, voting in every possible election is a citizen’s duty and most important method of influencing government.
The good news for San Antonians is that they have time to register for the May 6 election. April 6 is the registration deadline for eligibility to participate in this year’s mayoral election.
If you don’t vote, bad government is as much your fault as it is the fault of those who make bad decisions at the ballot box.
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