3.12 percent. That’s the voter turnout so far for primary runoff elections in Travis County (where most of Austin is located).
Wait, there’s an election going on right now?
You’re not the only one who’s asking that question. Voter turnout for primary elections is notoriously low, especially when the elections go to a runoff. This is despite the fact that in many places in Texas (which are dominated by either Republicans or Democrats), primary elections are actually where our future legislators and representatives are ultimately chosen.
But the truth is, our election system can be a bit complicated (which makes it difficult for people to vote). So here’s a breakdown of exactly what’s going on right now, so that you can go out there and help to boost that 3.12 percent voter turnout number 🙂
Sow what exactly is a primary runoff election?
As you might remember, primary elections for the Democratic and Republican parties were held in March. Primary elections decide which candidates will represent each party on the ballot during the general election in November.
However, in order for a candidate to advance to the general election, they must receive more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary. Especially in districts where an incumbent candidate has just retired and many people are running to fill the seat, reaching this 50 percent threshold can be difficult. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote during the primary election, then the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff. This is where we’re at now.
(Wondering where the Green Party, independent candidates, or Libertarians are? During these primaries, only Democrats and Republicans are on the ballot. The Green Party for example, selects candidates through a convention process. You’ll hear more about these independent or third party candidates closer to the general election in November.)
Who can vote in the runoff election?
In Texas, you do not need to register as a member of any particular party in order to vote in primary elections. All you need to do is show up at the polls on Election Day and select which party’s primary you’d like to vote in. The only rule is that you can’t vote in multiple parties’ primary elections in the same year. You have to pick one.
This means that if you voted in the Democratic primary in March, you can’t vote in the Republican runoff and vice versa. However, if you didn’t vote at all in March, you’re still able to vote in whichever party’s primary runoff you’d like to.
How can you participate?
Early voting for the primary runoff ends Friday, May 18th at 7pm. Election Day is on Tuesday, May 22nd. Polls will be open from 7am to 7pm.
In Travis County, you can cast your vote at any available polling station. (You don’t have the pick the one closest to your house). More information about polling locations and voter ID requirements is available here.
Now, Sheryl Cole (a former Austin City Council person) and Jose “Chito” Vela (an immigration attorney) are facing off in an extremely tight race. Just over 200 votes separated them in the first primary election.
Why this matters – District 46 is a solidly Democratic district, which means that whoever wins this runoff will also likely win the general election in November and begin representing Austin in the Texas Legislature.
US Representative (District 21) – One of the Austin area’s long-serving US Representatives (Republican Lamar Smith) announced his retirement in November, opening the door for a big election for Texas’s 21 US Congressional District seat. On the Republican side, Chip Roy (former chief of staff for Texas Senator Ted Cruz) and Matt McCall (business owner) are facing off to replace Smith with an even more conservative representative.
On the Democratic side, the race between Joseph Kopser (Army veteran and local entrepreneur) and Mary Wilson (a former math teacher and a pastor) has been generating a bit of buzz after a close primary race. Wilson actually received the most amount of votes during the primary, despite the fact that she raised significantly less money than Kopser and had a relatively low media profile.
459th District Judge – This race is actually for a new court, which was recently created by the Legislature and will be tasked with dealing with civil cases. In this solidly Democratic district, no Republican candidate is running. On the Democratic side, Aurora Martinez Jones (Associate Judge in Travis County) and Maya Guerra Gamble (lawyer specializing in Child Protective Services) are facing off for the job.