2012 City Council Elections

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

In the last presidential election, the iPhone 3G was the hottest phone on the market, and there were just a few million people on Twitter. Now almost half of American adults own smartphones and more than 500 million use Twitter. So let's check out what they're saying about voting lines! We'll be trawling the internet and adding new info here. 

Andy Uhler for KUT News

“I’m a little bit surprised  that the two primary contagonists here are divulging their strategies before the race is even on .”

So said Mayor Lee Leffingwell at last night’s Austin City Council meeting, debating the merits of competing plans for geographic representation. Judging by the late hour at which the comment came (just half an hour shy of midnight) one can forgive the mayor for coining a new term: contagonists, a seeming mash-up of antagonists, competitors and/or comrades.

But serendipitously enough, that’s a fitting term for the pair Leffingwell was referring to: veteran political consultants Peck Young (there on behalf of Austinites for Geographic Representation’s 10-1 district plan) and David Butts (pushing for the council to propose a “hybrid” scenario – eight single-member districts, with two additional council members and the mayor running at-large).

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The Austin City Council faces a full agenda today. It’s the last scheduled meeting before a month-long break.

They may well need a break, considering what’s on the agenda.

Sure to be the center of discussion are City Council proposals for geographic representation. As KUT News reported earlier this week, Mayor Lee Leffingwell is proposing a hybrid 8-2-1 system – eight council members representing individual districts, plus two additional members and the mayor running at large. Council member Mike Martinez is proposing a 10-1 system – 10 council members in single-member districts, with only the mayor running at-large. In its numbers, Martinez’s proposal is similar to the 10-1 proposal brought forward by Austinites for Geographic Representation, which is wrapping up a signature drive to place the initiative on the ballot.

Photo by Wells Dunbar for KUT News

The Austin-area League of Women Voters says it now supports the “10-1” plan for geographic districts for the Austin City Council.

The plan, supported by single-member district advocates Austinites for Geographic Representation, would create a city council comprised of members representing 10 individual districts, with only one member – the mayor – running city-wide. Currently all council members are elected city-wide.

The League of Women Voters spent a year studying how city council members are elected, and looking at what happened in other large cities that changed from an at-large system to one that was fully or partially district-based.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Low-Turnout Election Returns Incumbents to Council

Voters returned all four incumbents on the Austin City Council – including Mayor Lee Leffingwell – to the dais on Saturday.

The council members’ fates were revealed as soon as early voting totals were released, with the incumbents – Leffingwell, Place 2 council member Mike Martinez, Place 5 council member Bill Spelman, and Place 6 council member Sheryl Cole – all leading by comfortable margins.

Many of the council members commented on the exceedingly low-turnout in the election – just under five percent in early voting, and roughly the same amount on election day. Similarly, many of the council members also endorsed the idea of moving municipal elections to November, and moving to a form of geographic representation for the city council. Voters will most likely have a chance to vote on those proposals this November.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Despite facing down six opponents in his Place 5 re-election bid, Bill Spelman did surprisingly well, winning a second consecutive term without a runoff.  

With 217 of 237 precincts in, Spelman collected 58 percent of the vote. His nearest competitor, Dominic Chavez, only garnered 19 percent.

"This kind of validates one of those things I've been thinking about Austin politics for a long time," Spelman told KUT News. "Even though there's no way you can be on the city council without making everybody angry at least some of the time, in the long run the vast majority of people will forgive you because they understand that. And because they understand you can't govern a great city and have everybody agree on everything all of the time. There's too many differences of opinion in a highly political place like Austin."

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

With 52.08 percent of the vote and only 20 precincts outstanding, incumbent Mayor Lee Leffingwell has declared victory.

Mayor Leffingwell just finished delivering a speech to supporters at Scholz Garten, where incumbent Austin City Council member Mike Martinez also recently celebrated success.

Leffingwell came out on top of his two challengers – former city council member Brigid Shea and community activist Clay Dafoe. Leffingwell has narrowly avoided a runoff, coming in with about 52 percent of the vote.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

With a steady lead over challenger Laura Pressley, Austin City Council member Mike Martinez just declared victory.

The Place 2 incumbent just finished speaking to supporters minutes ago. KUT News spoke with Martinez shortly before his speech.

"We feel good, Martinez said. "The numbers are still coming in, but you have a ten point lead. We feel like we're on the path to re-election."

Photo courtesy flickr.com/vox_efx

Update (Midnight): Here are the final results.

Mayor’s race

Clay Dafoe: 5,307 10.86%

Lee Leffingwell (incumbent): 25,434 52.06%

Brigid Shea: 18,115 37.08%

Daniel Reese/KUT

With a commanding 70 percent of the early vote, it's safe to say Place 6 Austin City Council member Sheryl Cole is assured a third term on the council.

KUT News conducted interviews with all 14 of the candidates running for local office. Cole describes several issues will face this year, including the Austin Energy rate redesign, increasing affordability and more.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/ginapina

Early voting results are out in the Austin city elections. All incumbents are in the lead.

In the mayor's race, Lee Leffingwell is leading Brigid Shea by a margin that should probably hold all night.  

In Place 2 things are closer, but incumbent Mike Martinez still leads Laura Pressley.

In the most crowded race, Place 5 incumbent Bill Spelman is having little trouble, with 55% of the vote – currently enough to keep him out of a runoff.

Place 6 council member Sheryl Cole leads challenger Shaun Ireland, 70 percent to 30 percent.

Mayor’s race

Clay Dafoe: 11.10%, 2,287

Lee Leffingwell (incumbent): 55.25%, 11,381

Brigid Shea: 33.65%, 6,932

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

Do you care at all about who runs the City of Austin? If not, you can go back to sleep. Otherwise, get pumped. Today is your chance to participate in the democratic process. Fourteen people are running for three city council positions and the mayor’s post.

Here’s a list of polling stations across the city [PDF]. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. During early voting, fewer than five percent of registered voters cast ballots. That’s down about 25 percent from the last mayoral election in Austin.

To make your decision easier for you, we interviewed every candidate and posted links to those interviews right here. You can also find links to newspaper and other endorsements below that.

KUT News

City Elections Tomorrow

Election Day is tomorrow for the Austin municipal elections. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Fourteen candidates are running for four seats on the Austin City Council, including mayor.

Perhaps the most closely watched aspect of the election is the challenge to Mayor Lee Leffingwell by former council member Brigid Shea. Shea accused Leffingwell earlier this week of violating campaign finance laws, and throughout the campaign, has maintained that Austin is becoming more unaffordable

That's a common refrain among political challengers – that they will protect the citizenry's collective pocketbook better than the last guy.  But in the case of Shea, currently a community strategist and consultant, the arrival of huge companies like Apple and Formula One cast her position in a different light. 

Photo by Liang Shi for KUT News

On Monday, mayoral candidate Brigid Shea held a press conference accusing her opponent Lee Leffingwell of violating the city’s campaign finance laws. Leffingwell’s campaign denies the charge. And as of yesterday afternoon, the Shea campaign had not filed a formal complaint with the city’s Ethics Review Commission.

Surprising? Not exactly. Candidates accusing each other of ethics violations is a move many campaigns make as election day approaches.

In last year’s bitterly contested Place 3 Austin City Council run-off, incumbent Randi Shade filed an ethics complaint against challenger Kathie Tovo. And in the 2009 mayoral election, Lee Leffingwell alleged fundraising impropriety on the part of opponent Brewster McCracken.

Image courtesy youtube.com/TheLeeTeam2012

With early voting in the Austin city elections finished, and a scant four days left until Election Day, campaign ads are increasingly ubiquitous.

But where’s the fun in what's on the airwaves? Most broadcast spots are feel-good, soft-focus spots that have been focus-grouped within an inch of life. No, it’s in the wilds of the Interwebs the Austin politico finds the most entertaining (if not exactly illuminating) clips.

KUT News has combed the digital wastelands to find the strangest campaign ads for this Saturday’s City Council contest. And since sometimes, the WTF? is hiding in plain sight, we’ve including some broadcast spots in this roundup of the five weirdest videos in the Austin city election:

Image by Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Turnout continued to climb on the final day of early voting for the Austin city elections, although overall turnout never managed to surpass that of Austin’s last mayoral election.

Early voting returns for Tuesday, April 8, showed 6,094 ballots cast in Travis County. (That doesn't include precincts in Williamson County that vote in the Austin elections.) That brought early voting totals to 23,257 ballots – or 4.87 percent of registered voters.

In the image above, you can see how overall early voting in Travis County compares to Austin’s last two general city elections.

View Austin Early Voting Locations in a larger map

Chart by Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Turnout traditionally increases towards the end of early voting, and the 2012 Austin City Council elections are no exception. 

3,448 ballots were cast yesterday, the second-to-last day of early voting. That brings total overall votes to 17,162, or 3.60% of Austin's registered voters. Continuing its lead status among Austin's polling places, Randalls’ Research Boulevard and Braker Lane location saw 441 ballots cast on Monday.

As you can see in the graph above, the late surge mirrors early voting patterns in Austin's 2009 mayoral election, and 2011's City Council election. But despite Monday's increased turnout, which bested this voting cycle's strongest single day of turnout by 1,000 votes, voting still lags behind Austin's last mayoral election. 

Photo by Mose Buchele

Mayoral candidate Brigid Shea accused her opponent, Mayor Lee Leffingwell, of breaking city campaign donation rules in front of City Hall today. 

At issue are thousands of dollars Mayor Leffingwell received at an event attended by supporters of Austin’s Formula One racetrack, the Circuit of the Americas.

Shea says because he received those checks at the same event he should have listed the host as a “bundler,” someone who solicits donations for a candidate and hands them over to a campaign in a “bundle.”

With early voting drawing to a close, turnout in the Austin city elections saw an expected uptick.

Friday turnout – 2,449 votes in all – broke this election’s previous best of nearly 2,200 on the first day of early voting. Turnout was similar on Saturday, with a total of 2,358 votes, before dropping off on Sunday, with only 897 ballots cast. Total overall turnout for early voting is now 13,713, or 2.87% of registered voters.

KUT News had previously described turnout as on track to beat 2011, Austin’s last City Council election, but possibly not 2009, Austin’s last mayoral election. And as depicted in the graph above, that prediction looks about right. Plotting the first seven days of early voting from 2009, 2011 and 2012, this election cycle’s turnout is solidly lodged between Austin’s last two contests.