Low Turnout, the Fight for Voting Rights, and More Election News
Keep marching on
Voting rights are still under threat in Texas, with the Texas Legislature creating brand-new barriers to the democratic process. But it was hardly more than 100 years ago that suffragists were rallying at Wooldridge Square for women's right to vote. On Friday, Oct. 28, the city unveiled a new historical marker at that park once marred by heaps of city garbage – that monument is one of a couple hundred roadside markers like it across the country to elevate little-known stories of the struggle for equality.
"In many ways, we are still suffragettes," said state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, at the event. "We're still fighting for representation, fighting for the vote. And we still believe that we win when women participate, and we win when women lead in the political process, and vote our numbers."
Here in Travis County, women's democratic involvement included taking local office in 1912 – six years before Texas became the ninth state to ratify the 19th. Now women make up three of five county commissioners and eight of 10 Council members. "It's not just that we have the vote," Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter said at the National Votes for Women Trail marker unveiling. "We have the ability to make policy and to legislate and to make a real difference and I think we are seeing the impact of all of these women in power throughout our community. I'm really grateful to the women who came before me, the women on whose shoulders I stand – the women on whose shoulders we all stand – but today in the midst of an election, and if we want to honor the women who stood in that square, the women who fought for our right to vote, we need to vote."
The marker demonstrates the work of four suffragettes and the protesters that marched there. Speaker and former Parks and Rec employee Gloria Mata Pennington noted the efforts of Black suffragettes in Wooldridge Square, who marched for their right to vote behind state representatives they were told they could not join during the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson.
As of Tuesday, Travis County had 197,499 votes cast, a 24% turnout so far. At two days into week two, the county's numbers are still lower than week one of early voting alone in 2018, when the county also had fewer registered voters. (Week one in 2018 saw 216,112 votes cast, which was 27% turnout then. Week one this year saw only 18% turnout.) Senate Bill 1, which passed last September, included legislation limiting how and when ballots are cast. That primary showed more than 12,000 absentee ballot applications rejected and 24,000 mail ballots thrown out. The Brennan Center for Justice reported that Asian voters saw 19% of mail ballots rejected, Black voters 16.6%, and Latino voters 16.1%, compared to their white counterparts at 12%. "So many of the challenges, very brutal challenges, that suffragettes faced are not dissimilar from the violence and the intimidation and the hate that is being raised today concerning many that participate in the democratic process," U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, told the Chronicle. "I'm troubled that our early voting turnout was so low. But it's an inspiration that we should continue the work that they began to expand democracy and participation." – Leila Saidane
This Stuff's Expensive
Kirk Watson was first elected mayor in May 1997, and his ample funding in that campaign prompted local activist Linda Curtis to form Austinites for a Little Less Corruption and launch a citizen initiative to impose a $100 limit on council campaign contributions ($25 for lobbyists), which prevailed resoundingly (72% to 28%) in a low-turnout referendum in November 1997. (Later, with different political weather, Council hiked it to $300 and indexed it to inflation; it's now $450.) Eventually, even its backers soured on this strategy for good government, since its burden falls hardest on the candidates with the most modest means. Wealthy folks like Steve Adler, Kathie Tovo, and Jennifer Virden can and do self-fund in the six-figure range; those with connections and networks rely on bundlers and, increasingly, on unregulated outside political committees.
Watson, running again for mayor 25 years later, has all of these strategies at his disposal, along with the $1.2 million from his dormant Texas Senate account that he moved to a new KPW PAC on June 28. He can't tell that PAC what to do with that money (it hasn't reported any activity yet) or the Stand Together PAC formed to back him in June (treasurer: Watson-era City Manager Jesús Garza), or any other that's supporting him, including Charter Schools Now PAC, which randomly spent $4,120 on mail for Watson on Oct. 15. But money is fungible, information wants to be free, and all this money goes through the hands of the few-ish people in Austin who know how to turn it into the voter contact candidates crave, so *shrug emoji*. This cycle has seen more money than usual go to out-of-town vendors with partisan leanings, like N.Y. Dem stalwarts BerlinRosen, Watson's go-to media firm with whom he's spent nearly $750,000 (since Sept. 25), about two-thirds of which looks earmarked for TV airtime. The biggest local campaign firm at the moment, Mykle Tomlinson's Y Strategy, has handled about $600,000 of business in the same time frame, but that's from many clients, including Stand Together PAC. – Mike Clark-Madison
The Rest of the Ticker
Jane Fonda came to East Austin this week, representing her climate-change-focused political action committee, to get out the vote for and give money to Democrat Luke Warford, running for railroad commissioner. "I'm finding that there are these offices that wield tremendous power when it comes to the climate, like the Railroad Commission," she told KUT. Indeed, despite the Wild West misnomer, a seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas may be one of the most important climate-related offices in the U.S. because it regulates oil and gas in Texas... The latest polling from the UT-Tyler Polling Center has Gov. Greg Abbott with a 6-point lead on Beto O'Rourke, based on 1,500-person sample of Texas's 17 million registered voters, taken between Oct. 17-24. What does Abbott's lead tell us? Not much. Also this week, The Houston Chronicle published a dive into why political polling is in such bad shape. As one longtime Florida-based pollster told them, polling is statistical analysis, and statistics require a random sample. Because many people opt out of polling, the samples are biased. Among other issues.