Voter Turnout Timeline
This timeline shows voter turnout, by percentage, in every Austin City Council election since 1926. Each point on this graph is an election; this includes both general and runoff elections as well as special elections to fill vacancies.
The Swing Era
Before 1953, Austin elected its councils through a proportional system -- the top five vote-getters in each election became the new City Council, and they then chose their own mayor. (As such, there were no runoffs.) The wide turnout swings are typical of prop-rep: When all the incumbents run for re-election, turnout is typically low, and when seats open up, turnout shoots back up.
Rocking the Vote
In 1953, we changed to the place system we have now, and then between 1969 and 1975 implemented various changes -- adding two council members, moving to direct election of the mayor, and instituting the "gentleman's agreement" to ensure African-American and Hispanic "representation" on the council. The 1971 election, the first to feature a direct mayoral race (won by Roy Butler), had the highest turnout on record -- 57% -- and was the first to seat an African-American council member (Berl Handcox).
Inertia Sets In
In 1975 we saw the fruition of the "gentleman's agreement" with the election of Austin's first Hispanic council member (John Treviño). Since then, our electoral system has been static, and our turnout has steadily tanked. Last month's 8% turnout was the lowest percentage in 50 years, and fewer actual people came to the polls than in any election since 1967. --M.C.M.
Vertical numbers represent turnout percentage
1926--1953: Proportional system: Top 5 vote-getters elected, council chooses mayor
1953: Change to place system (what we have now)
1969: Council expanded to seven members
1971: First direct election of mayor (Roy Butler); first African-American elected (Berl Handcox)
1975: First Mexican-American elected (John Treviño)
1993: Highest turnout this decade (27 percent); last defeat of an incumbent (Bob Larson)
1994: Charter amendments:Term limits approved; single-member districts defeated
1999: First election with ALLC campaign finance limits (approved in November 1997)