It’s that time of year again. Election season is upon us and here at the Austin EcoNetwork, we want to make sure that you are informed about the candidates and issues at the local level. The presidential election is of course, important. But too often, we only pay attention to what’s going on with national politics, at the expense of local government.
That’s kind of crazy considering the large impact that local government has on our everyday lives. City Council affects the quality of our parks, the price of our property taxes, the health of our environment, and the severity of our traffic. While the president and Congress can enact big policies that eventually impact some of these things, they rarely have as direct an impact on the parks we visit everyday or the roads we always drive on.
It’s also often easier to make a difference at the local level. The average City Council member in Austin represents 80,000 people. That might sound like a lot until you consider the fact that:
- your congressman represents about 710,767 people
- our two Texas senators (Ted Cruz and John Cornyn) represent about 27 million people
- and the president represents about 319 million people
Just looking at the numbers, your chances are much higher of getting face-time to discuss issues that are important to you with your local City Council member than with a national politician. Your City Council member might shop at the same grocery store as you do, or drop their kids off at the same school. They are part of the community, which actually makes them pretty accessible.
And yet, who do we vote for?
In 2012 (a presidential election year), voter turnout in Austin was 60 percent. That number plummeted in 2014 (a non-presidential election year) to 40 percent, despite the fact that in 2014, Austin elected a new mayor and an entirely new City Council. This was a big year for local government, but about 90,000 fewer Austinites showed up at the polls to vote for their mayor and City Council member than voted for president.
The situation gets even worse when you look at the 2014 runoff election. Any candidate who didn’t receive more than 50 percent of the vote was forced into a runoff (in 2014 this included the mayoral election and seven of our city’s 10 City Council districts). The voter turnout in that election was 15.58 percent.
The age group with the worst voter turnout numbers are millennials. In the 2014 City Council and mayoral elections, 18- to 29-year-olds made up 13.6 percent of voters. In the runoff, that number dropped down to 4.7 percent of voters. That’s despite the fact that millennials are a large and rapidly growing age group in Austin.
How do I register to vote?
The last day to register to vote in the November election is October 11th. There are several ways to register to vote in Travis County:
- Text “Register” to 48683 (IVOTE) to receive a postage-paid application by mail
- Visit any Travis County Tax Office
- Visit any Austin Public Library or US Post Office located in Travis County
- Download a voter registration application online and then send it in by mail to: Travis County Voter Registration, PO Box 149327, Austin, Texas 78714-9327
Okay, I get it – local elections are important. So who’s running?
The City of Austin is made up of 10 City Council districts, served by one City Council member each. In November, five of those seats will be up for election. In all five of those districts, an incumbent City Council member is running. The districts up for election are 2, 4, 6, 7, and 10.
Here are the candidates –
District 2 (southeast Austin):
District 4 (north/central Austin):
District 6 (northwest Austin):
District 7 (north/central Austin):
District 10 (central/west Austin):
Throughout the month of October, the Austin EcoNetwork will be taking a deeper dive into each of these City Council races, providing you with the info you need to make an informed decision on Election Day. We understand that most of you aren’t experienced political operatives. Don’t worry. We will take the time to make things easy to understand, without sacrificing on quality.
And since we’re the Austin EcoNetwork, we will of course be paying special attention to theenvironmental platforms of each of these candidates. The environment is an issue that is often overlooked by mainstream media. We’re here to fill the gap. So stay tuned for newsletters, blogs, and podcasts, all focusing on one thing – local government!
Have any endorsements been made yet?
In City Council elections, local nonprofit organizations and business associations often make endorsements specifying which candidates they support. At the Austin EcoNetwork, we try and keep track of the eco-related endorsements that come out each election cycle.
Just last week, the Austin Environmental Democrats endorsed the following candidates:
- Delia Garza – District 2
- Greg Casar – District 4
- Jimmy Flannigan – District 6
- Leslie Pool – District 7
- Alison Alter – District 10
We’ll continue to share more information with you as other environmental organizations make their endorsements in the coming weeks.