Editor’s Note: The story below is based on unofficial vote totals as reported on Election Night. Since then, Travis County has posted updated vote totals, showing Watson carried the county by 30 votes. His overall margin of victory was 0.82%, which still makes it Austin’s closest mayoral election based on available election data.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Though Representative Celia Israel garnered the most votes in November, she fell to Senator Kirk Watson Tuesday night in the runoff election by just 886 votes. It’s the slimmest margin in an Austin mayoral race in decades.
“People will always say my vote doesn’t matter. But last night, it proved that your vote certainly matters because the gap between the candidates was so close,” Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edward’s University, said.
In the runoff, Watson won by a small margin — just 886 votes, or 0.78 percentage points. He did not, however, win Travis County.
Unofficial results show Israel got 17 more votes in Travis County than Watson. It was slivers of Williamson and Hays County that fall in Austin city limits that pushed Watson to a victory. Watson largely won both of those counties.
In Hays County, Watson claimed 84.38% of the vote, though only 31 people voted. In Williamson County, Watson got 62.30% of the vote with 2,231 votes.
Using available elections data and looking all the way back to the early 70s, Watson’s 0.78% margin of victory is the slimmest in an Austin mayoral race in decades, and possibly ever.
Two mayoral elections have been decided by less than 2 percentage points: Carole Keeton McClennan’s victory over Jack McCreary in 1977 and Bruce Todd’s win over Robert Barnstone in 1991.
Prior to 1971, the mayor of Austin was not directly chosen by voters. Rather, elected city council members would choose the city’s mayor.
Election data is also available for a few years in the 1800s, but none of those elections were as close as this year’s.
While Kirk Watson is the winner of Austin’s closest mayoral election, he also won the largest landslide of any mayoral candidate, based on available election data.
In his 2000 re-election bid, Watson won with a margin of 76.25 percentage points over closest rival Leslie Cochran.
“I deeply understand one of the key messages that those voters were looking for in that campaign, and that is that this town must focus on equity and inclusivity and diversity,” Watson said of representing Israel’s voters.