May 4 Election Wrap-up
By the NumbersAt the victory party Saturday night, Place 1 incumbent Daryl Slusher speculated that this might be a "realignment election." He might be right, not just in terms of the public agenda (see "Austin@Large," p.15) but in the voter behavior that drives it. Some highlights of the May 4 numbers:
The overall turnout for the city races was 9.3% -- slightly higher than the 8.95% official figure for the combined multijurisdiction ballot. When we dipped below 10% for the first time, in 1999, and stayed there in 2000, low turnout was blamed on the lack of serious challengers, which was in turn blamed on campaign finance reform. This year, though, we had hotly contested races and plenty of money spent, and still had low turnout -- suggesting that many Austinites have simply given up voting in city races for good.
Another culprit to consider, though, is the dwindling early voting share. In past elections, early votes have made up as much as one-third of total turnout; this year, less than one-fifth of voters cast their ballots before Election Day. (More than 2,100 of those 7,467 votes were cast on the last day of early voting.) This will surely be blamed on Linda Curtis, whose legal action against HEB helped persuade the grocer to banish early voting, but the numbers were anemic everywhere. In past years, the early vote has been predictably conservative; for example, in 1997, both Eric Mitchell and Mañuel Zuniga saw healthy early vote leads erased by Willie Lewis and Bill Spelman on E-Day. This year, though, saw no huge disparity between the early and E-Day numbers.
True to form, the city center, northwest, and southwest turned out at above the citywide average, and the rest of town at far below that rate. Usually, west-of-MoPac turnout is slightly higher than in the city center, but not this year (a reflection of fewer early votes, perhaps), which made Beverly Griffith's poor performance even more unexpected (see below). The single boxes with the highest turnout, though, were in the Northwest, buoyed largely by supporters of Brewster McCracken.
Despite Kirk Mitchell's aggressive greener-than-thou campaign against Slusher, the incumbent pulled his best percentages in the city's greenest boxes -- in box 276 in Hyde Park, for example, Slusher got 78.3% of the vote. The only urban-core box to do anything nice for Mitchell was 274 -- the North University neighborhood, of Villas on Guadalupe fame -- where he and Slusher tied with 46.3% each.
Otherwise, Mitchell's best boxes -- including the 12 where he actually beat Slusher -- were on the Eastside. The challenger pulled his best overall percentages in African-American East Austin, despite Slusher's strenuous attempts to cultivate support there over the years, and his best individual boxes were in Latino neighborhoods -- particularly East Town Lake and Montopolis areas where the activist coalition El Concilio, no friend to Slusher, has the most influence. He also did well in marginal edge-of-town boxes, like the Williamson County precincts where only 20 or so people vote.
Slusher carried 161 boxes total. Vincent Aldridge did carry one box -- 154, Harris Branch -- but of the three other contestants UT student Craig Barrett had the most impact, pulling nearly 10% in the Southwest, presumably on the strength of his Libertarian support. And who, exactly, are the more than 1,000 people west of MoPac who voted for Jennifer Gale?
The only part of town where Jackie Goodman didn't pull at least 50% was the South/Southeast, which gave Billy Sifuentes his best numbers, probably for obvious ethnic reasons. But Sifuentes also did handsomely -- better than Beverly Griffith -- in the northwest and southwest, where candidates with police support (even though the police PAC couldn't officially support the retired officer) usually do well. Linda Curtis' numbers were remarkably consistent everywhere, although highest in the northwest, where she had helped many new Austinites fight annexation and earned their votes accordingly. Despite having dropped out of the race, Robin Stallings still pulled enough votes -- and not just in early voting -- to keep Goodman from topping the 60% threshold.
Two numbers on the chart tell the whole story -- Betty Dunkerley's 36% showing in Central Austin, and Beverly Griffith's 16% showing in the northwest. The incumbent's distant third-place showing west of MoPac isn't fully explained by Brewster McCracken, since his high west side numbers came, mostly, from the 11 boxes he actually won, mostly northwest. (Although he also won box 304 in Circle C Ranch, where Griffith pulled a dismal 8% of the vote.) Where McCracken and Dunkerley didn't wax Griffith together, Dunkerley managed to do so on her own.
Meanwhile, Griffith only dominated in a handful of central strongholds -- including the aforementioned Hyde Park and North University boxes, along with Zilker and Clarksville. Other urban-core power boxes either went for Dunkerley (Travis Heights, Crestview, Brykerwoods) or split between her and Griffith (Rosedale, Enfield). One Bouldin Creek box went strongly for Griffith, the other narrowly for Dunkerley. McCracken was less a factor in the city center than some expected, so one wonders what happened to those 26,000 people who signed Griffith's petition to bust term limits.
Elsewhere in town, it was all Dunkerley, all the time -- she won 120 boxes to Griffith's 43, with one tie. Her strongest single box was 141, Reagan High School, and she pulled nearly as well throughout the northeast quadrant of the city -- where her overall total edged just past 50%. Despite enjoying the same backing as his friend Craig Barrett in the Place 1 race, Eddie Bradford was not a factor.