Average turnout since 1999 in Dallas Co. for an odd-year May election for which the mayor of Dallas is on the ballot.

Voter turnout in Texas is low, compared to other states, even under the best of circumstances. About 53% of registered voters cast ballots in the mid-term election, the first time at least half of registered voters participated in a mid-term election since 1994. Far fewer participate in primary elections – 17% for the parties combined in 2018 – and even fewer as the elections grow lower in profile.

Odd-year uniform elections in May are just as likely to see single-digit turnout than double-digit turnout, and turnout in recent years for these local elections has been trending downward. In 2005, turnout in Dallas Co. was 14.4%. Ten years later it had fallen by more than half. The number of votes cast for mayor of Dallas has fallen each of the least three mayoral election cycles.

Dallas saw the lowest mayoral election turnout among 30 large U.S. cities in 2011-15, according to a study by Portland State Univ.’s Population Research Center. Five of the eight lowest-turnout cities were in Texas: Austin (ranked 23rd), El Paso (25th), San Antonio (27th), Fort Worth (29th) and Dallas (30th).

Since 2007, turnout in Tarrant Co. for the odd-year May elections has exceeded 9% – barely – once. The last four contested mayoral elections in Fort Worth have each drawn fewer than 34K people to the polls, once fewer than 20K.

In San Antonio, mayoral elections have averaged 72K, ranging from 42K in 2011 to 114K in 2005. In El Paso, the 2003 mayoral election saw more than 50K voters, but fewer than 33K voted in 2017.

The effect is not limited to the May elections. In Harris Co., where the municipal elections are held on odd-year November dates, turnout dropped from 24.9% in 2003 to just 6.7% in 2017. Turnout exceeded 20% in 2015, the last mayoral election, and was above 13% in 2009 and 2013.

Tomorrow (Monday), the House Elections Committee will consider House Bill 365 by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), which would require municipal general elections to coincide with even-year November general elections beginning in 2020.

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