Tomorrow (Tuesday) is Election Day for HD120, and voters will elect a representative to serve the remainder of former Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon’s unexpired term. We will have live coverage beginning at 7 p.m.
Neither Democrat Lou Miller nor independent Laura Thompson are a major party’s nominee in the general election, so either faces a decidedly uphill climb to win a full term. Neither candidate has reported any contributions or expenditures since June 30.
The election has exhibited very low in-person early voting turnout, and thus is likely to be determined by absentee voters who cast their ballots by mail. Many of these voters will receive their ballots by mail by virtue of voting absentee in the Democratic primary. If so, this would tend to boost Miller, the lone Democrat on the ballot. Thompson finished first among early voters in the special election, but Democratic candidates captured more than two-thirds of the vote.
The headwind Thompson faces from partisan voters in the runoff election is similar, but smaller, to the headwind she would face as an independent running against Democratic nominee Barbara Gervin-Hawkins in November. Nearly half of all 2012 general election voters cast Democratic straight-ticket ballots. Thompson would need virtually all other voters – including the more than 20% who voted Republican straight-ticket votes – to vote for her to overcome Gervin-Hawkins’s likely advantage.
Thompson has already filed paperwork to run as an independent in the general election. Miller’s only opportunity to serve a full term is to conduct a successful write-in candidacy. He faces the same straight-ticket vote disadvantage. Straight-ticket voters may cast a vote for another candidate in any race, overruling their straight-ticket declaration for that race, but few do so.
If Tuesday’s winner does not run successfully in November, he or she will be the first state representative elected to the House but never casting a vote since Dan Barrett (D-Fort Worth), who won a 2007 special runoff election but lost the 2008 general election. Tuesday’s winner could also be joined by Rep. John Lujan (R-San Antonio), who won a 2015 special runoff election but faces a tough re-election rematch against Tomas Uresti.
Thompson also has an opportunity to make history. An independent candidate has not been elected to the House since Bodo Holekamp of Boerne and Homer Leonard of McAllen in 1932.
The election may also set history as the lowest turnout for a legislative special runoff election since at least 1996 and likely much longer. Just 2,421 voters cast ballots in the HD124 special runoff election won last year by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), making it the current mark for low voter participation.