Rawlings casts vote for change
Mayor: City Council elections in November would boost turnout
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.”