Low turnout in local elections gives those who do vote more influence

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Editor’s note: Data used in this piece is limited to voting records available when ordered. The data only accounts for those who were registered in Lewisville when records were obtained.

The eSlate voting booth records voters’ ballot decisions during elections. (Photo courtesy of Frank Phillips)

The local elections have kicked off with early voting for the May 6 election, but the decision of who will lead Lewisville and its school district will probably come down to about 2 percent of the city’s voting population.

“If we’re lucky,” City Secretary Julie Heinze said.

In contrast about 60 percent of registered Lewisville voters participated in the November 2016 election.

Of the 49,642 registered to vote in Lewisville, which is less than half the city’s population, 1,001 turned out for the local election in 2016, according to voting data from Denton County Elections. The year before saw 1,786 Lewisville voters in May. In 2014 there were 1,110, 2013 had 1,560 and 2012 had 1,810 local voters.

Heinze said it’s definitely concerning and, from a city standpoint, staff want people to be informed and go out and have a say in who their elected officials are.

“When you have that 1 to 2 percent voting population, those votes carry a lot of weight in city elections,” she said about the few people voting council in. “Really residents are more affected by what’s done at a local level than they are at a state or national level. Obviously we’re affected by that too, but really your day-to-day life is affected by people you’ve got in office locally.”

Council member Brent Daniels agrees that a local election vote is more important than the general election vote. He cited past local elections where a candidate missed the win by less than 20 votes.

“Whether it’s parks, trails, the school board, the school bond — these are all things that immediately impact you,” Daniels said.

Denton County elections administrator Frank Phillips echoed that local elections affect residents more than the “big” ones.

“You’re either voting directly on a proposition that will affect your tax rate or your pocket book somehow or you’re voting to put in office the people who control your local budgets, your roads that you drive on daily and, again, set your local tax rates,” Phillips said.

Approximately 88 percent of those who voted in the local election last year live in houses. The remaining 12 percent of the 2016 local voters is made up of those who live in an apartment, a condo, a mobile home, a duplex, a senior living facility or an extended-stay hotel.

One of the biggest factors in whether or not a family buys a house in a city is the quality of the schools, Daniels said.

“And some of that will be based on research and some of it will be based on what they drive by a school and just look at,” he said.

This year is a bond election year for Lewisville ISD. The $737.5 million bond to be voted on would be used for about 30 projects, such as refurbishing schools, constructing new facilities and demolishing Hedrick Elementary.

Lewisville residents make up the largest population in LISD, but this week’s early voting tallies as of Friday morning show they made up approximately 20 percent of the district’s early voters while Flower Mound residents had almost twice as many going to the polls. That’s 788 of Lewisville’s early voters to Flower Mound’s 1,694.

If the trend continues, Flower Mound will have a larger influence on who is elected to the Board of Trustees and whether the bond proposal will pass.

Heinze said Flower Mound consistently has a higher voter turnout than Lewisville does. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated Lewisville’s population hovers around 104,000 residents while Flower Mound has more than 71,000.

To better assess the ages of those who voted locally in 2016, ages have been categorized into groups: 18 to 24, 25 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 54, 55 to 64 and 65 or older.

There was a total of 82 Lewisville voters 34 and younger who voted in the 2016 local election. That’s less than the number of voters in the 35 to 44 age group, which had 103 voters.

The older the age range, the larger the group, with 185 who are 45 to 54, 203 who are 55 to 64 and 428 who are 65 and older.

(Graph by The Lewisville Texan Journal)

Voters 25 to 34 had the highest count of registered voters with 11,001 though.

(Graph by The Lewisville Texan Journal)

Though the number of registered voters 65 and older is the second lowest, they constitute the largest group of local voters in 2016. Nearly 6 percent of registered voters in the 65-and-up range voted in the spring election, while less than 3 percent of registered 55-to-64-year-old voters casted ballots.  The 18-to-24 and 25-to-34 groups each had about a half percent turnout.

(Graph by The Lewisville Texan Journal)

Daniels said the lower turnout of younger voters could be because they don’t believe the local election relates to them. The school bond proposal is a huge part of this election, he said.

“If you’re 25, you don’t have kids that are old enough to be in school yet or don’t have kids, you don’t have property taxes, and you’re already out of school, you’re in that window of, ‘School bond doesn’t affect me,’” Daniels said. “Even though it will, and it will affect their children down the road.”

Why does a small percentage of registered voters participate in local elections? It’s a question election administrators ask all the time and it’s mind-boggling, Phillips said.

How can it be remedied? Phillips suggests talking to friends and family and convincing them of the importance of it.

Early voting will continue until May 2, excluding April 30 unless you are a Dallas County resident. Voters may go to any polling station in their county during early voting. Polls are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.

Voters in Dallas County can early vote on Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m.

On May 6, Denton County Lewisville voters can only vote at the Lewisville Municipal Annex. For the fraction of Lewisville voters in Dallas County participating, votes must be cast at Coppell Town Center on election day.

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