Why your vote often has more impact in an Austin runoff election

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the Nov. 3 general election, Travis County voters flocked to the polls at the highest rate the county has seen during a presidential election since 1992, with the county clerk’s office reporting 71.36% of registered voters participating.

While lots of Austin voters may have been motivated to turn out for the November election, statistically speaking, their greatest chance to impact change with their vote may come Tuesday in the December runoff elections for city council and Austin Independent School District board.

In these races, if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote during the November election, the top two candidates face off in a runoff election shortly thereafter.

  • Check here to see if you are eligible to vote in the runoff and to view Election Day locations and wait times. You can hand deliver mail-in ballots on Election Day from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. in the parking lot of 5501 Airport Boulevard. Voters may only hand deliver their own carrier envelope, the county clerk’s office says.
  • The polls for the runoff elections in Travis County close at 7 p.m. Dec. 15.

The Travis County Clerk’s Office reports during early voting for these December runoffs, 22,209 people cast ballots in person, and 19,306 people voted by mail.

Photos of the candidates facing off in December runoff elections for Austin City Council Districts 10 and 6. For District 6: incumbent Council Member Jimmy Flannigan (upper left) faces off against Mackenzie Kelly (upper right). For district 10: incumbent Austin City Council Member Alison Alter (lower left) faces off against Jennifer Virden (lower right). All photos courtesy of each candidate’s respective campaign

In the November 2020 election, Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, who is the District 6 incumbent, received 40.2% of the votes. Flannigan is competing in a runoff election against Mackenzie Kelly who received 33.4% of the votes. A little more than half of this district’s residents live in Travis County and the rest live in Williamson County, so these percentages reflect the totals from both counties.

Austin City Council Member Alison Alter, who is running for re-election in District 10, received 34.2% of the vote and is competing in a runoff election against Jennifer Virden who received 25.4% of the votes.

In AISD District 5, Lynn Boswell who received 38.1% of the votes and Jennifer Littlefield who received 36.5% are facing off during this runoff as candidates for the Board of Trustees seat. For the AISD at-large position 8 seat, Leticia Caballero who received 45.8% of the votes is in a runoff against Noelita Lugo who received 29.8% of the votes.

Turnout among eligible voters during these runoff races is typically significantly lower than the 71% Travis County just saw in the presidential election.

In a statement to KXAN about these runoff elections, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said:

“Most people understand the excitement of races at the top of the ticket like for President and Governor. But many voters, especially young voters might not realize that city council races and school board trustee elections have more to do with your daily life and your pocketbook than the big-ticket races. Even if you are a renter, city and school taxes and policy are more likely to affect your bottom line. The November 2020 election saw more young people voting than at any other time in our history. This could be the start of a new pattern of voting, a new level of participation for all age groups, and recognition that all elections have consequences.”

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir in a statement to KXAN on Nov. 30, 2020

Turnout in past Austin runoffs

  • In the December 2014 Travis County runoff races, a little less than 16% of eligible voters participated in both AISD and Council runoffs.
  • In December 2016, 22.4% of eligible voters participated in the council runoffs and less than 5% of eligible voters participated in the Austin Community College trustee runoffs.
  • In December 2018, 11% of eligible voters participated in the council runoffs, a little less than 6% of eligible voters participated in the AISD trustee runoffs, and 5% of eligible voters participated in the ACC trustee runoffs.

With such low turnout, the margins of victory in these runoff races can be especially slim.

In 2014, Ellen Troxclair won the District 8 council seat over Ed Scruggs by just 56 votes. In 2016, Pio Renteria won re-election to the District 3 council seat over Susana Almanza by 1,074 votes.

Compare those tight margins to the number of votes that Austin’s Proposition A passed by in November: 65,963 votes.

Council Members Flannigan and Alter have both competed in runoff elections before.

In 2014, Flannigan lost to Don Zimmerman in a runoff by just 191 votes and went on to win against Zimmerman in 2016 by a large enough margin that a runoff was not needed. In 2016, Alter secured a win of the District 10 council seat after she earned 4,142 more votes than Sherri Gallo in the runoff election.

Follow KXAN for the latest updates on the December Travis County runoff elections.

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