Point Austin: Lessons at Election Time
Vote like our lives (and Austin) depend on it – they just might
What have we learned so far? Well, locals are voting early in record numbers; on Monday and Tuesday, the Travis County pace was actually slightly higher than in the 2016 election. Because total registrations have also spiked (hats off to county voter registrar Bruce Elfant, his team, and hundreds of volunteers), those throngs represent a slight decline in percentage turnout from 2016. (It's always puzzled me that local voter registration rates top 90%, compared to a much lower actual turnout, when the process of registration is seemingly more difficult than just going to the polls. My best guess is this is yet another argument for same-day registration/voting, or automatic registration – and for the end of the now-ubiquitous voter suppression efforts in Texas and elsewhere.)
Statewide, numbers are up as well, having already reached close to 60% of the 2014 early vote. Don't celebrate just yet – that still represents only about 10% of registered voters.
We don't know yet if the local enthusiasm for early voting means a consistent increase in overall turnout, or just a shift in voting away from Election Day, as has been a growing pattern in local elections. Despite this year's remarkably long lines – and the reassuring patience shown by those eager voters – it's just easier and more convenient to vote early. In recent years, when the early voting results appear right after 7pm on Election Night, it's been all over but the partying and whining, at least locally. A real "wave" election would be one, this year, in which E-Day voting matches (or exceeds) the early numbers. We'll see.
What are we voting for? At the top of the Texas ballot, for both a sea change in state politics – which will take more than one wave, or one year, to accomplish – and for a repudiation of venomous Trumpian politics that continue to corrupt public discourse to the point of violence. (As I write, bombs have been sent to George Soros, Barack Obama, the Clintons, other Democrats, and CNN – surely it's a coincidence that all have been targets of Trump's virulent rhetoric.)
Walking Down the Ballot
On the congressional races, it will likely be difficult to see if the pressure for change has substantial effect. The Texas congressional districts are so extremely gerrymandered in favor of Republicans (mostly incumbents) that Democratic "victory" may consist of narrowing the margins enough to just maybe force GOP officeholders occasionally to consider the sentiments of their constituents. If a few challengers do break through in Texas, it will bode well for a national Democratic takeover of the U.S. House, and for some kind of check on the endless norm-shattering recklessness of the White House and its sycophants.
Hopes have been understandably raised for Beto O'Rourke, although it's worth reminding ourselves that his inspirational campaign remains a long shot, even against one of the most unctuously repulsive Republicans in a still-Republican state. Hard to tell if Trump's recent foray to Houston will help Ted "Beautiful" Cruz as much as it hurts him. Similarly, considering statewide offices like lieutenant governor or attorney general – if GOP voters can stomach Trump, it's difficult to believe they will blanch at Dan "Bathroom Police" Patrick or Ken "Indicted" Paxton, despite their opponents Mike Collier and Justin Nelson cleaning up on major-paper endorsements.
There's more hope of enough change in the Texas House – HD 47 voters for Vikki Goodwin, we're looking at you – that the 2019 Legislature might not be quite as hostile to Austin and Texas cities generally, or as ready to thwart those cities' attempts at progressive governance.
Our Common Endeavor
Austin voters have the best opportunity for a real impact in the City Council and bond/proposition elections. We can take specific steps (Props A-G) to do the things the Legislature now routinely refuses to do: build infrastructure, invest in community, support health care, provide cultural and educational resources that we can only provide in common. I won't rehearse the Chronicle endorsements one more time – you can read them here or online, clip and take them to the polls, argue over them in our forums and in letters to the editor ....
But do understand that they are the recommendations of a small group of your fellow citizens who take politics, voting, and community very seriously. We write not necessarily out of a sense of public responsibility and duty alone, but in a spirit of common endeavor, now and over time, to help make Austin achieve its best possibilities. That's not something that happens in a day, in a season, or a single election – it's a lifelong journey. We invite you to join us on that journey – today, on Nov. 6, and into our common future.