Run-Offs Likely In Many Houston Election Races

Houston's mayoral race is getting a lot of attention — but all of the Houston City Council races will also be on the ballot. The sheer number of candidates will likely force several races into run-off elections.

City council elections aren’t the ones that draw the voters.

That’s why several of the races may not be decided until December.

The projected low turnout typically makes it difficult for a candidate in a hotly contested race to win more than 50 percent of the vote.

Rice University Political Science Chair Mark Jones says there are a couple of categories of council races on the ballot this year.

“We have one category that are incumbents running for reelection, and with a couple of exceptions, the incumbents will be reelected without any real struggle. Then on the other side, we have several districts or at-large seats that are open seats where the incumbent was term-limited, and those are going to be very competitive and in most cases likely to go to a December run-off.”

There are also two races where the incumbent could end up in a run-off and even lose reelection. 

Helena Brown in District A and Andrew Burks in At-Large Position 2 are both considered at risk for losses.

University of Houston Political Science Prof. Richard Murray says run-offs appear to be in the cards for races where 
multiple candidates are running for open seats. 

For example, in District D there are 12 candidates on the ballot with no clear frontrunner.

“Those are races where we think the fight is to finish first or second and go on into a run-off. Most of the others have incumbents and probably the great majority of those get resolved with the incumbent winning.”

Turnout is a major factor in city council races.

It’s not uncommon for less than 15,000 people to vote in any single council district.

Mark Jones says the mayor’s race and the Astrodome initiative may draw a few thousand extra voters, but that might work 
against some of the races.

“That benefits the incumbents some, but it also can lead to a greater probability of a run-off simply because people are casting votes with relatively little information about the candidates in play. The larger the turnout gets, probably the more likely most of these multi-candidate races are to go to a run-off.”

There are about one million registered voters in the City of Houston, but less than 200,000 are expected to turn out for
the general election.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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