Rawl­ings casts vote for change

Mayor: City Coun­cil elec­tions in No­vem­ber would boost turnout

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro & State - By COR­BETT SMITH Staff Writer cor­bett­smith@dal­las­news.com

Mayor Mike Rawl­ings wants more peo­ple to vote in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions.

To that end, he’d like to move Dal­las City Coun­cil races to the No­vem­ber bal­lot in even-num­bered years, so they’ll co­in­cide with pres­i­den­tial and midterm elec­tions.

This week’s mas­sive turnout in a spe­cial elec­tion for Dwaine Car­away’s va­cant Dis­trict 4 seat proves his point, he said.

While there wasn’t a win­ner among the 13-can­di­date field — forc­ing a De­cem­ber runoff — 14,297 votes were cast, the most in any City Coun­cil race since 2009.

“When I see that num­ber, I feel that Dis­trict 4 is truly speak­ing about who they

wanted and what they wanted from a can­di­date, as op­posed to when I see 1,500 peo­ple turn out in some races across the city from time to time,” Rawl­ings said.

Not ev­ery­one, though, thinks mov­ing non­par­ti­san May races is a good idea.

Dal­las ISD trustee Miguel So­lis said that hav­ing the dis­trict’s tax rat­i­fi­ca­tion elec­tion on the No­vem­ber bal­lot cer­tainly helped its cause, “be­cause the type of vot­ers that showed up tended to be more pro-pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and there­fore more pro-tre.”

Four propo­si­tions from DISD, in­clud­ing a 13-cent in­crease in the tax rate, all passed com­fort­ably.

But “par­ti­saniz­ing” lo­cal races, like school board elec­tions, would have un­in­tended con­se­quences, So­lis said.

“Non­par­ti­san, lo­cal gov­ern­ment is our last best hope at get­ting stuff done with­out party dy­nam­ics get­ting in the way like it does in Austin and D.C.,” he said.

The mayor’s ini­tial push for No­vem­ber elec­tions came ear­lier this year, af­ter a sur­vey of Dal­las vot­ers was com­mis­sioned by The Dal­las Morn­ing News and con­ducted by Baselice & As­so­ci­ates. More than half of re­spon­dents said they’d be more likely to vote in No­vem­ber of an even-num­bered year than May of an odd-num­bered year.

Over 54 per­cent of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers — 727,371 — cast their bal­lots in Dal­las County on Tues­day. His­tor­i­cally, voter turnout in elec­tions for Dis­trict 4 — which cov­ers parts of Oak Cliff — is low, much as it is with other Dal­las coun­cil races. City­wide turnout in May 2017’s coun­cil races was 7.6 per­cent.

“I think that hurts in the long run,” Rawl­ings said. “I don’t think our so­ci­ety is bet­ter for it when we don’t have max­i­mum po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion. And we, as po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, should be putting our own po­lit­i­cal is­sues off to the side and make it as easy for peo­ple to vote as pos­si­ble.”

Rawl­ings said he was in­spired by his trip to Buenos Aires two weeks ago, when he took part in the first Ur­ban 20 May­ors Sum­mit, which gath­ered may­ors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 37 of the world’s ma­jor ci­ties. In Ar­gentina, vot­ing is com­pul­sory — in both gen­eral elec­tions and pri­maries — for those be­tween the ages of 18 and 70, with few ex­cep­tions.

Dal­las will need to get per­mis­sion from the Texas Leg­is­la­ture to move away from the uni­form May elec­tion date, and Rawl­ings said that it will be a pri­or­ity to find a leg­is­la­tor will­ing to carry a bill in the up­com­ing ses­sion to give the city that right. “That would al­low us to do it, but ul­ti­mately, I think it should be up to the cit­i­zens or the city de­cided to do so,” Rawl­ings said.

Of the 10 largest ci­ties in the state, four of them hold city coun­cil and/or may­oral elec­tions in No­vem­ber: Austin, El Paso, Cor­pus Christi and Laredo. Matthew Wil­son, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at South­ern Methodist Univer­sity, said mov­ing city elec­tions to No­vem­ber would “cer­tainly” drive more peo­ple to the polls, but there could be a sig­nif­i­cant draw­back if those vot­ers weren’t up to speed on the lo­cal races.

“The down­side would be that you’d have a lot more un­in­formed vot­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing in th­ese elec­tions,” he said.

That means down-bal­lot races would be de­cided by con­stituents who know lit­tle about the can­di­dates or the is­sues driv­ing their cam­paigns.

“If they are par­ti­san races, and folks are gen­er­ally fine with peo­ple vot­ing based on po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion, that’s one thing,” Wil­son said. “But if they’re non­par­ti­san, like the mayor’s race and other races in Dal­las, then I don’t know how de­sir­able it is to have a large num­ber of peo­ple vot­ing for th­ese lo­cal of­fices es­sen­tially at ran­dom.”

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