Amid Low Turnout, Victory for Council Incumbents
The next Austin City Council is going to look an awful lot like the current one.
Incumbents swept all three open council seats in city elections held Sasturday. Mayor Lee Leffingwell will also stay in office for another three years.
Mayor Leffingwell along with incumbent council members Mike Martinez, Sheryl Cole and Bill Spelman each expressed gratitude and relief after the results were made official.
Leffingwell narrowly avoided a runoff with former council member Brigid Shea, garnering 52 percent of the vote. Martinez defeated challenger Laura Pressley by 11 point margin to remain in Place Two. Cole won Place Six handily with 71 percent of the vote. And Spelman took 58 percent of the vote over six challengers for Place Five. But each council member also expressed frustration and disappointment with the lack of voter interest in this year’s municipal elections.
Spelman says there’s a quick fix, but it’s counter to the way the current council works.
“The easiest way to get the turnout to come up is to find some big, bold issue that people have to line up on one side or the other of and just duke it out,” said Spelman. But he doesn’t believe that solution would be good for the city.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell says that the solution to the turnout problem could be as simple as moving the date of the municipal elections.
“We could have moved our elections to November and for the mayor’s election this year we could have had a 60 percent turnout instead of a ten percent,” said Leffingwell. “That would have made me happy. I think the more people that vote, the better democracy works.”
But council member Sheryl Cole doesn’t think it’s that simple. She says during a presidential year, there’s normally good voter turnout, but in non-presidential years, turnout lags.
“So, you have to break up that analysis,” said Cole. “You can’t just think ‘ooh, the election is in November, most of the people are thinking about a presidential election’ that’s not going to solve the entire problem.”
Austin voters could be asked to amend the city charter to move city elections to the fall. That, along with a measure to change the city council to geographic representation instead of the current at-large system, is likely to be on the ballot this November.