What if you held an election and nobody showed up? Well, things aren’t quite that bad here in Harris County, but elections officials say Saturday’s statewide vote mixed with a slew of local races, including a Houston city council seat up for grabs, is generating very little interest. Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports.
Here at the busy corner of Walker and Smith in downtown Houston just a stone’s throw from City Hall, voters like this man, who didn’t want his name used, say they have no intention of casting ballots on Saturday.
“The only member of the Houston government that I have any idea has any power is the mayor or the city attorney or something like that and so without more understanding that that position actually does anything, it’s hard to get excited.”
David Bierne is with the Harris County Clerk’s office and says elections officials aren’t expecting much on Saturday.
“Pretty much turnout is exactly what we were expecting with this type of unusual election. We weren’t expecting a large number of voters to be, first of all, very aware of the election or that engaged with it. But right now we’re expecting about five to six percent total turnout for the entire county.”
Bierne says things could be worse.
“The only reason it’s upwards of five to six percent at this point is really because of the city of Baytown, city of Pasadena and the city of Houston who are having local issues on their ballot that are driving turnout in those areas. Without them I would say the turnout would be around two to three percent.”
Because the constitutional amendment on the ballot doesn’t have any real opposition and the Houston city council at-large seat race has been low profile, many local voters say they simply don’t care about the election. Bierne would like to see that change.
“Our feeling in the County Clerk’s office is that people should be paying attention to all elections. Typically we run into those voters who say, well I vote in every single election and what in fact they mean is they vote in every presidential election. There are a multitude of elections that occur in between that actually affect them probably more so than presidential election on a daily basis because it dictates whether their sidewalks are repaired, there infrastructure for water and sewer and it’s their local representatives.”
University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray says without a hot-button issue on the ballot, not many voters will turn up at the polls.
“If you put a gay marriage issue on the ballot that would draw a good many people out. With a non-controversial state constitutional amendment that nobody to my knowledge has indicated they’re opposed to and 11 people running for an at-large city council seat with on other offices on the ballot, if you’re afraid of crowds, go the polls. It’s a good place to hide out.”
Murray says in stark contrast to Saturday’s election, he expects record turn-out for the 2008 presidential election.