May 4 Election Wrap-up

Election Shorts

The online politics newsletter In Fact Daily reports that Place 4 winner Betty Dunkerley still faced hefty campaign debts as of Monday. Dunkerley invested about $60,000 of her own money in her campaign, and sent an e-mail to previous contributors to help recoup those funds. Thanks to activist Linda Curtis' "A Little Less Corruption" charter amendment from 1997, Dunkerley couldn't collect campaign donations after Monday, so she needed those checks (or pledges for checks) right away. Dunkerley said that because she made the run-off -- which ended Monday when incumbent Beverly Griffith withdrew -- previous contributors who had already hit the legal $100 limit were eligible to give again. She told the Chronicle that she collected about $14,000 from checks and pledges sent to Threadgill's Restaurant, and another $8,000 came in the mail Wednesday morning (the checks had to be dated Monday). Given the aforementioned $100 limit, Dunkerley faced a challenge perhaps greater than collecting 26,000 signatures. -- L.N.

The last incumbents to do as badly as Beverly Griffith did Saturday night were Sally Shipman and George Humphrey in 1990. Shipman pulled only 25% of the vote in losing to Louise Epstein, while Humphrey pulled 29% to finish in third place, forced out of a run-off between Bob Larson and Susan Toomey Frost. Three years later, Larson finished a half-point behind Brigid Shea -- the last time an incumbent went into a run-off in second place. Since then, the only incumbent to be beaten on Election Day was Willie Lewis, who got 36% of the vote in 2000 in losing to Danny Thomas. -- M.C.M.

In both the Statesman's and News8Austin's Web site insta-polls on Griffith's withdrawal from the run-off, the "Yes, Bev did the right thing" vote is outpacing the "No, she didn't" vote by about 2-1. However, almost all the comments on the News8 site (which posts actual comments) are either pro-Bev ("Dunkerley's election is tainted") or chide Bev for cratering. -- M.C.M.

The tiny incorporated community of Sunset Valley, lodged in the middle of Southwest Austin, faced an election controversy of its own on Saturday. An election judge was unable to verify the eligibility of four voters, so he allowed them to vote and then sealed the ballots in an envelope and left them uncounted. When City Council candidate Kelly Lee came out ahead of Bill Waller by a margin of 59 votes to 56, the contents of that envelope suddenly became very important, and the council debated whether to unseal it. Tuesday night, the council verified the eligibility of the votes, unsealed the envelope, and found the results unchanged. -- L.N.

In support of Don Turner's re-election bid to the Barton Creek/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board, the Save South Austin Political Action Committee distributed postcards listing this reason to support the incumbent: "You remember when Don helped resupply the Troops during those fire-fights in Vietnam, through a hale of incoming anti-aircraft fire." Apparently, the majority of voters did not remember -- or at least couldn't fathom what that war record might have to do with water conservation -- and Turner garnered only 26% of the vote. -- L.N.

Guts, Glory, and Gale

Saturday night at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex was as tense and hectic as one could expect from an Austin election ballot-counting locale, but more arctic (the complex's air-conditioning unit is set on "Frigidaire"). Aside from the victories (Slusher, Goodman, Dunkerley) and losses (publicly financed campaigns, single-member districts, Beverly Griffith) was a lot of newsmaker interaction. We couldn't eavesdrop on all the conversations, but here are some highlights:

Slusher giving his Place One opponent Jennifer Gale a conciliatory, post-returns pep talk. Slusher: "You ran a very civil campaign." Gale, sounding a bit surprised: "Yeah, but I still lost!" Maybe next time she should go negative?

The crowd of sign-waving Dunkerlettes who loyally cheered their candidate wherever she wandered. You've never seen a more ebullient CPA than Dunkerley on Saturday night.

Council Member Will Wynn getting plenty of TV attention, even though he wasn't running for anything.

The City of Wimberley Lives

A hot-button referendum to abolish Wimberley's city government lost by 205 votes in Saturday's election, as opponents of the measure turned out to maintain the status quo in a 726-521 decision. The petition to put the referendum on the ballot boasted 550 signatures from local residents, but the Take Back Wimberley campaign apparently failed to build momentum beyond its starting point.

Two years ago, voters overwhelmingly decided to incorporate the town as a means of managing rapid growth and development across the scenic Hill Country. Critics of the local government, however, complained that the City Council moved too swiftly in implementing stringent ordinances. Despite the loss, Take Back Wimberley supporters say they hope the City Council will, at the very least, slow its pace of enacting new rules. The election also produced a new mayor, Tony McGee, who ran unopposed. Council Member Matt Manis will serve another term, but incumbent Walter Brown was ousted by John Graddy. -- A.S.

Luckily, No Jews for Buchanan

"At least in Palm Beach County, Fla., citizens were given butterfly ballots!" So reacted Council Member Will Wynn to Election Day's ballot brouhaha, which involved shortages at three Northwest Austin polling places. Rumor Saturday night also said ballots were scarce at two boxes in Circle C Ranch, but no reports of trouble came in to City Clerk Shirley Brown's office.

Brown estimates that Highland Park Baptist Church (Pct. 237) went ballotless for one hour, and Spicewood Springs Library (Pct. WC275/329) for four. St. Matthew's Episcopal Church (Pct. 249) never ran out of ballots -- 2,000 of them were simply forgotten in the trunk of the election judge's car.

"We worked hard to do the best job we could," said an apologetic Brown. "We certainly didn't try to create this confusion." Although her office began poll preparations back in January, Brown estimates her staff lost at least a month validating term-limit-busting petitions filed by Daryl Slusher, Jackie Goodman, and Beverly Griffith, and dealing with subsequent suits filed by Kirk Mitchell and Linda Curtis. "But that doesn't mean these [Election Day problems] could have been avoided."

In response to a list of questions Wynn sent her office requesting details on Saturday's snarls, Brown wrote that her office first received calls from the problem polls around 10am Saturday. In hindsight, she regretted not taking advantage of laws that enable the presiding election judge to provide makeshift ballots if official ones aren't available. Another regret: announcing she would keep the polls open two additional hours "without the proper authority to do so."

The problem precincts were good ones for Place Four candidate Brewster McCracken, who came within about 1,000 votes of pushing past Griffith into a run-off with eventual victor Betty Dunkerley. He believes the city clerk's assertion that less than 100 voters were affected on Saturday is "a significant undercount," and estimates "about 200" got lost in the shuffle, though he has no plans to contest the results. "The election judges didn't even start taking the names of voters denied ballots until two-and-a-half hours after they ran out," said McCracken. On Saturday, he heard about the shortage at Spicewood Springs and repeatedly called the city clerk's office to alert them to the problem. "On several occasions, the clerk said there were ballots there, but we were standing there and it was not true." Fresh ballots intended for Spicewood Springs, which lies in Williamson County, were originally delivered to Travis County Pct. 275 -- Baker School in Hyde Park -- by mistake.

On the bright side, ballot shortages or similar problems shouldn't mar next May's election, in which Austin voting goes electronic. In the future, the city intends to inform future election judges never to turn away voters, and to let them vote "on any paper available" if a shutdown occurs. -- L.A.

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