Courthouse Bond Defeated

Bond Proposition loses: 50.7% to 49.3%

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” a famous New Yorker once said. That was certainly true of the Travis County bond vote Tuesday, narrow and in doubt until the final update from the County Clerk. In the end, the bond lost by 1,064 votes of 73,180 votes cast — about 11% of the registered voters.

Civil & Family Courthouse in the balance (Illustration by Jason Stout)

The mood at the bond campaign headquarters for the evening – The Terrace atop the 816 Congress building – had been generally upbeat and cautiously optimistic all evening. Although the early vote, posted about 7:30 p.m., had shown the bond trailing by more than 5% (52.7%-47.3%), the clerk's earliest election-day post had reversed that percentage (while the bond still trailed in the total vote), and the subsequent updates had steadily improved the bond’s chances.

Indeed, with about half the election day vote counted – posted at 9:25 p.m. – the total had shifted in favor of the bond, albeit by only 63 votes. That small margin grew, within the hour, to 210 – with about 3/4 of the heavy election vote counted. It looked like the bond might squeak through, perhaps by less than 1% of the total vote.

But the nearly final, just before 10 p.m. posting, reversed the trend. That tally showed the bond losing by about 800 votes out of about 70,000, 50.7% to 49.3%. Those late results were a little unclear – what looked like 100% of the vote turned out to be a little less than that – but the bond campaign team on hand acknowledged the few remaining boxes would be insufficient to reverse the tide. Although the vote will not be official until certified, the clerk’s 10:33 p.m. posting showed 37,122 votes against the bond, 36,058 in favor: defeated by 1,064 votes.

Since the final outcome had shifted so quickly, the mood among the bond campaigners and the various county officials on hand moved from upbeat, to somber, to defiant in a matter of minutes. Judge Eric Shepperd, president of the Austin Bar Association, quoted Teddy Roosevelt on “daring greatly,” and said the fight to build a new courthouse would continue. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt thanked the campaign team, granted county staffers on hand “two days off” to catch their collective breath, and reiterated that Travis County’s “constitutional mandate” to provide an adequate system of justice would not be abandoned.

After two days, Eckhardt said, “We’ll be back in the saddle and working on this project. This is the most important thing that Travis County government delivers … a duty under our democracy to produce justice for our entire community, in a building that is fit for that promise.” Starting Monday, she continued, “We’re starting to work again on this project.”

Eckhardt said a new county civil courthouse could not wait the statutory three years required for another bond vote, and that the county would have to consider other ways to address the need and its obligation. How that process will take shape is yet to be determined.

For more on the bond vote, and the state constitutional amendments (as expected, all seven passed overwhelmingly), see this week’s print edition, and follow the Daily News.

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Election November 2015, Travis County Courthouse Bond, Sarah Eckhardt, Eric Shepperd

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