Low turnout in May elections highlights 2018 voter apathy

Despite the area’s rampant growth, officials believe voter turnout in local Hays County elections are at a standstill.

With less than 10 percent of registered voters casting a ballot at the polls in May, the number of ballots cast in spring elections has failed to grow in recent years, despite efforts to register more voters.

Hays County Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson says voters tend to be more involved in November elections, and that participation wains in May, the month many jurisdictions hold city and school elections, she said.

“I think people are busy and don’t keep up with issues. People get tired of politics. At this point, I think there’s a lot of voter apathy, so that’s why we’re seeing a drop in voting,” Anderson said. “I hope people realize voting is important. I’d like to see 100 percent voter turnout.”

Voter registration in Hays County has increased overall, but the actual number of people turning up to cast a ballot has not experienced similar growth. Four years ago, about 100,000 Hays County residents were registered to vote; that number has grown to 120,000.

The 2016 presidential election was a factor in the jump, but the number of ballots cast did not deviate from the usual turnout during a presidential election year, Anderson said.

Unfamiliarity with state laws pertaining to voting, inexperience in election participation and the stigma surrounding discussing politics can all contribute to a jurisdiction’s low voter turnout, said Ida Miller, the outgoing president and soon-to-be voter registration chair for the League of Women Voters of Hays County. 

The League of Women Voters is a group dedicated to empowering women and men to educate themselves on issues and accessing the right to vote. The Hays County chapter has existed in one form or another for about 60 years, Miller said. The group does everything they can to get residents to the polls and prepared to vote. However, not everyone feels comfortable participating in politics, especially if they aren’t familiar with elections, she said.

“Politics are real polarizing, and people don’t talk about it,” Miller said. “Some choose to ignore it all completely because there’s so much emotion wrapped around it.”

In many Texas suburbs, children grow up in families with a tradition of voting and watch their parents take part in elections. Kids who grew up in cities, especially those who belong to a racial minority, may be from families who were systematically disenfranchised and did not grow up watching their parents cast ballots, Miller said.

Miller and Anderson agree that it is up to local candidates to rally residents into voting.

Carrie Kroll was re-elected to the Dripping Springs ISD school board in May and received more votes than any other candidate in the race. She said the number of elections held in any given year can be overwhelming for residents who are not informed. They may mistakenly believe their vote will not make a difference, she said.

“I think it’s important to remember some of these are really closely called. School board trustees have lost by as little as two votes before,” she said. “It’s imperative that everybody get out and get active in the process, because your vote can make the difference and determine the outcome in these these smaller races.”

Candidates can engage with voters and encourage participation by focusing on local issues in the day-to-day life of residents.

“It’s important to localize the issues down to the lowest levels, so people understand how those issues impact them,” Kroll said.

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