San Antonio’s System to Elect Its Mayor Is Broken

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Mayoral candidates (from left) John Velasquez, Ron Nirenberg, Matt Piña, Greg Brockhouse, Tim Atwood, Carlos Castanuela, Bert Cecconi, and Antonio "Tony" Diaz.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Mayoral candidates (from left) John Velasquez, Ron Nirenberg, Matt Piña, Greg Brockhouse, Tim Atwood, Carlos Castanuela, Bert Cecconi, and Antonio "Tony" Diaz speak at a debate on April 15, 2019.

A predictable 85 percent to 90 percent of registered voters in the city of San Antonio will likely choose not to vote in the May 4 city election. Much is at stake: selection of a mayor, City Council members, school board trustees, yet turnout is likely to be minimal.

Even giving voters eight different calendar dates to get to a polling site is unlikely to boost turnout. Early voting has steadily gained traction among those who do vote, but it has not substantively increased turnout.

Early voting in this year’s May 4 city and school board elections begins Monday, April 22, and ends April 30. Here are the early polling sites. The final day for election officials to receive mail-in ballots is May 4. Voters can consult the Rivard Report’s 2019 Election Guide for information on the candidates in each race.

I’ve been looking at nearly a quarter century of local election results, some years featuring intensely contested elections, others that were foregone re-elections of incumbents. The voter turnout varies only by 10 percent at most, regardless. Not a single local election in the time period I studied showed even 20 percent of the eligible voters going to the polls. Most local elections draw closer to 10 to 11 percent, some even less.

The 2005 race for mayor was the high-water mark for voter enthusiasm. Almost 18 percent of the city’s then-650,000 eligible voters turned out, inspired by City Councilman Julián Castro’s first run for mayor. He finished first with 42 percent of the vote, not enough for a first-round win. Outside candidate Phil Hardberger, a successful plaintiffs attorney and retired appeals court judge, finished second with 30 percent. City Councilman Carroll Shubert, the business community’s choice, finished third with 26 percent. Four other candidates accounted for the balance.

Hardberger beat Castro by 3 percent in the runoff, which drew 18.8 percent of registered voters. From then on, voter turnout for local elections has steadily declined with each two-year election cycle in San Antonio.

Hardberger easily won a second term in 2007 with 77 percent of the vote and a 10 percent turnout.

Former San Antonio Mayors (from left) Phil Hardberger, County Judge Nelson Wolff, and Julian Castro.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Former San Antonio Mayors (from left) Phil Hardberger, County Judge Nelson Wolff, and Julián Castro.

With Hardberger term-limited to two, two-year stints as mayor, Castro ran again in 2009 and won election in the first round with 56 percent of the vote and an 12 percent turnout. Two years later he won re-election in 2011 with 81 percent of the vote and a 7 percent turnout. With term limits relaxed to four, two-year terms, thanks to a Hardberger initiative to amend the city charter in his final term, Castro ran for a third time in 2013, receiving 67 percent of the vote, again with only a 7 percent turnout.

Castro left before the end of his third term to join the Obama administration as Housing and Urban Development secretary. Councilwoman Ivy Taylor (D2) was elected by her City Council colleagues to complete that unfinished term, based in no small part on her promise not to seek a full term in the 2015 election.

As the filing deadline approached, Taylor broke her promise and entered a crowded field of challengers, including former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, former state Rep. Michael Villarreal, and former Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson.

Taylor finished 2,000 votes ahead of Villarreal to make a the runoff with Van de Putte, but then prevailed in the second round of voting. The runoff total attracted 14 percent of registered voters, compared to about 12 percent in the first round.

Taylor, a reluctant campaigner and seen as vulnerable in 2017, was challenged by then-City Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) and Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manual Medina. A little more than 11 percent of register voters turned out for the first round. Taylor finished almost 5,000 votes ahead of Nirenberg, but Nirenberg won the runoff by a landslide 9 percentage points. Once again, the runoff drew slightly more voters, this time more than 13 percent.

Outgoing Mayor Ivy Taylor gives Mayor-elect Ron Nirenberg the certificate of election, marking the beginning of his term in office.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Outgoing Mayor Ivy Taylor gives Mayor-elect Ron Nirenberg the certificate of election, marking the beginning of his term in office in 2017.

If voter participation is the measure, our system for electing mayors and council members is broken. Ditto with school board elections. Media campaigns, candidate debates and forums, grassroots block-walking, phone banks, expensive mailers – none of it is energizing greater participation.

The Rivard Report hosted a mayoral debate with incumbent Nirenberg and challenger Greg Brockhouse (D6) Wednesday evening at the historic Spire, an event center in St. Paul Square that once served as San Antonio’s first African-American church. It was the latest in a series of neighborhood-level civic engagement events.

More than 350 people registered to obtain a free ticket, a cocktail or beer, and for members, a Rivard Report Fiesta medal. Yet the turnout was 100-plus, meaning the majority of registrants decided they had something else better to do. The debate was livestreamed on Facebook. Both candidates acquitted themselves well. Security had to escort out one shouting disrupter, but that was more amusing than distracting. Most attendees stayed to the end, many lingering to visit with the candidates. People were animated and expressed gratitude as we bid them farewell at the door.

The event was only one of many the two candidates – and in some instances, the other seven individuals whose names appear on the ballot for mayor – have participated in this election season. I doubt the majority of readers of this column has been to any of them. It’s a ritual that mattered far more one century ago than it matters now. We’d have to make it a Netflix series to draw real attention now.

Nothing substantive is being done to study this failure in participatory democracy at the local level. A bipartisan blue-ribbon committee would surely conclude that legislative gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts in Austin, poor education outcomes in the city’s minority population, election fatigue, and citizen inertia all play a part in the problem.

A move to four-year terms would produce more seasoned mayors and council members, and reduce the millions of dollars the city and county spend on elections every two years. Moving the election date to November to coincide with state and national elections also would boost turnout and interest.

The biggest missed opportunity might be the failure to experiment more aggressively with technology solutions that would allow anyone with access to a smartphone or other identifiable device connected to the internet to register and vote on-demand within a two-week election period. Social media and push-and-pull technology could do more to educate and animate prospective voters than all the mailers and television ads in the world, and at far less cost.

After the election dust settles, the mayor and council ought to convene a body to figure out a better way. We do not need a 30-year plan. We need to study best practices elsewhere, take some risks, and embrace technology.

55 thoughts on “San Antonio’s System to Elect Its Mayor Is Broken

  1. This is a pretty radical statement “A bipartisan blue-ribbon committee would surely conclude that legislative gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts in Austin, poor education outcomes in the city’s minority population, election fatigue, and citizen inertia all play a part in the problem.” the author is just throwing out there as accepted fact, especially the first 2 points. Gerrymandering has nothing to do with mayoral elections and is regularly done by both major parties. Also what voter suppression? Do tell.

    SA is not unique in low turnout rates. The problem is definitely compounded though by a population that is apathetic and has no ambition or motivation.

    • Where did you see minorities singled out in this description? The fact that you go straight for the “racist!!!”argument make you and your statement morally deficient and is the reason people can’t discuss issues frankly.

      People in San Antonio are quite apathetic and lack motivation compared to cities of comparable size. Everybody who’s spent time in other parts of the country recognizes it but nobody says it.

    • My response would be this: Gerrymandering has left many people believing their vote does not matter. That sentiment extends to all elections, unfortunately, even local, nonpartisan contests. People simply do not make it to the polls, or worse, allow their voter registration to lapse. –RR

  2. “No taxation without representation.” American history thought me this, yet it does not happen. I am a law abiding, tax paying, US permanent resident who cannot cast a vote in local elections.

  3. Move the election to November on even -numbered years. At least then we’ll have close to 40%…still pretty poor but at least somewhat representative.

    • I don’t think higher turnout is a worthwhile goal. Why would we want people who can’t be bothered to be informed and motivated, to vote? Those are not the kind of people I want picking someone to govern me.

      • Peter, how do you feel about measures to increase the public’s participation in the city’s recycling and organic composting programs. Many people “can’t be bothered” with such. Would you prefer such people continue to dump recyclable & reclaimable stuff into the landfill? We’re talking about citizen responsibility in voting (and recycling and many other things). Such is LEARNED. The City has launched measures to increase CORRECT recycling (specifically keeping disposable diapers & other inappropriate material out of the recycling and organics bin) through public education (and penalties for repeated offenses). Anything the city does to increase environmental awareness is to be applauded.
        Our society attempts to teach people how to be good drivers (drivers ed, licensing requirements) before letting them loose on the road. How about teaching us how to be better citizens?

      • Matt — My message below addressed to “Peter” was actually in response to your comment and was intended for you. I hope you read it.

      • Matt, encouraging people to vote is a form of engaging and informing them. Even today, most dedicated voters vote the party line or ignore judicial races rather than research strong and weak judges. As a consequence, we see judges swept out wholesale when they appear down ballot. Creating an environment where eligible voters are encouraged to participate is a strong step toward building more inclusion and participation. –RR

  4. It would help if the election did not occur around FIESTA. Party fatigue and hang overs do not lend to voter interest.

  5. Offer a certificate or trophy for participation and you’ll entice the last 2 generations. If there’s nothing in it for them they won’t “waste their time”.

  6. The system is broken. What new leaders need is a healthy dose of creativity in ALL its departments. San Antonio is too stagnant, stuck on “well there’s no other way to do it,” Creativity creates value, this mindset snowballs, it becomes the norm within a community. If you effectively campaign on the value of surrounding yourself with creative, technology savvy new age entrepreneurs willing to overhaul our local government with creative new ideas which can more benefit the lives of the ordinary citizens, then it is my belief that said candidate will come out on top.

  7. excellent work. san antonio participation rates for mayor and city council are abysmal. voter apathy is high. in my district, district 6, the last election had less than 10% of registered voters participate.

    your call for moving the dates of the elections to coincide with presidential elections is a idea worth exploring….also the time has come that we should be able to vote by fax, email or other digitally traceable technology…..i am an independent insurance agent and i now process all applications via digital technology….my productivity and customer service capacity has increased exponentially….it seems to me that technology which can be traced to the user and able to be successfully monitored for fraud, such as email would be able to be registered and verified and utilized for voting.
    What is even more concerning to me though is the apathy of the voting populace. Why does 90% of the eligible voters not pariticpate in local elections?? seems to me that this is a concern worthy of further study.

  8. So, now that you have complained and stated what you believe to be a case:

    If media pros wish the public to be more educated, then they can encourage each other to donate more time to informing the public as to the significantly increased impact of their vote and voice when a small fraction of voters actually turn out.

    They can take the pixels, email space, paper or broadcast time to demonstrate to the public how local elections create greater impact on their quality of life than national level elections, and their vote is far more powerful locally. Compare and contrast the local vote to the national vote where it is one in millions, and drowned by an electoral college in the presidential election or higher population areas at the state level.

    This can be done in small quick segments, frequently throughout the year during different election seasons. Repetition would improve retention and the rate of exposure to audiences, just like marketing does or flashcards in college.

    It would be a beautiful thing to behold if the radio, TV, print and digital media professionals of our city got together and did this, partisan or not, especially if they all said the same thing about how the system works. The audience penetration would be amazing. This is how Coke and Nike do it. Talks about itself across every medium it possibly can with the same consistent message. Why not media professionals who profess to serve their community and the Fourth Estate?

    • With you 100% Paula. When Delores Huerta was in San Antonio she gave an interview on a local news channel called The Source, she explained to the radio audience that in order to get the vote out “San Antonio must educate its citizens the IMPORTANCE of why they need to get out the vote! All of the societal benefits that come from being politically active! This was about 3 or 4 years ago, however I never heard that subject come up again. No implementation of how are we going to educate all of these non-voters with the knowledge that if they take their constitutional right of going to their poll station, that their lives have a chance for a brighter future. San Antonio reminds me of ‘the patient has been ill for quite some time, but refuses to take the new medication offered,’ the top candidates are stuck on following “the playbook,” stuck on old issues, stuck on ruffling their special interest feathers/campaign contributors, dare I say afraid of fundamental, structural change, spilling over to local the same ole ole in San Antonio. This anemic election again reflects the lack of creativity this city sorely needs to make tangible change. Happy Easter.

      • Y’all are both wrong because the message to educate non-voters has been done several times throughout my lifetime and it doesn’t change anything, even when that message has been pushed aggressively. The majority of younger voting-aged citizens do not regularly follow the news and most of the younger generation who do, do not follow traditional news sources. The younger generations, who happen to represent the biggest population of voting-aged citizens, do not watch the morning/evening/nightly news. In fact, they rarely watch live TV as they prefer to stream on-demand. They don’t listen to the radio either because they prefer to stream on-demand music as well. This means they don’t get influenced by formally trained journalists. By digital media, I believe you mean online journalism (digital media can be anything as simple as a personal picture posted by someone or a song that can be downloaded or streamed). Online journalism might have the most influence in getting the vote out but you have to understand that there are many online journalist who have neither formal or informal journalism training. They are people who want to share their personal opinion and very often don’t even use 1st hand investigative reporting to write their articles. Instead, they read articles from other news sources and write based on what they read, no fact checking involved at all. And those people aren’t necessarily in getting the vote out because the status quo might help to further their opinions.

        • David Guadiana
          So your answer is “this has been tried before, it failed so why keep trying.” C’mon man San Antonio needs creativity, your response perfectly exemplified my early point. City leaders are afraid to think outside the box, too concerned about their careers and livelihood. This cycle of pessimism within our community must change. The same ole, same ole, will not move us locally where we should be nationally, if we don’t change the current trajectory, San Antonio will remain an unfavorable modern city, unable to pull its citizens from the bottom of its inequities. We San Antonians can and should take our future into our own hands.

          • Rogelio, apparently you only read the first sentence and stopped because I wrote several sentences after that which had nothing to do with the first sentence. The rest of what I wrote was how the examples given were not outside of the box but in fact were inside of outdated boxes. And you are also a prime example of the problem…stating what the problem is but offering no ideas that could lead to solutions. Anyone can do that.

          • David,
            I’ve attended political functions, decrying the lack of voter participation, the lack of educating local citizens into the why their vote matters, I only got blank stares. Here’s an idea, why can’t the city create a new office of voter education, one that goes into the communities and informs the public the importance of voting. Another idea, CPS Energy could add a flyer to each electric bill notifying the public that if they attend a “voting education seminar,” that they could receive a rebate on there next bill. VIA buses could place advertisements, informing voters of an upcoming election, dates etc. If done correctly, this could increase turnout. Schools could send flyers to interested parents. Voter registration cards could be added to to each water bill that goes out to each customer. These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. New ways and ideas of doing things to increase voter turnout is limitless!

            The long history of Texas and its voter apathy is something that has been designed by those in power. Many in our community have been convinced through generations that voting is a useless exercise. This apathy has been purposely engineered and it’s history goes back to the beginning of statehood. To give up, is not an option.

    • Matt, encouraging people to vote is a form of engaging and informing them. Even today, most dedicated voters vote the party line or ignore judicial races rather than research strong and weak judges. As a consequence, we see judges swept out wholesale when they appear down ballot. Creating an environment where eligible voters are encouraged to participate is a strong step toward building more inclusion and participation. –RR

  9. The roots of voter apathy go deep and it is very frustrating to deal with. We could start with better civics education at all levels, including school field trips to City Council meetings. That still won’t be enough to hold their attention; voters have to be convinced that local elections affect them personally.

    November elections are a must.

    I would also urge the City to adopt preferential or ranked-choice voting, which would eliminate runoffs.

  10. I agree with Nick Lee that another electoral system – like ranked-choice voting, or approval voting – would be better for San Antonio. We could save money, and also reveal more voter preferences, creating incentives for participation.

    “A move to four-year terms would produce more seasoned mayors and council members…”

    This is a terrible idea. The two-year terms work wonderfully because they allow voters to provide feedback more readily. Our city already lacks sufficient mechanisms for transparency and involvement – and term lengths are one of the few ways that we can let voters feel empowered with their government.

    • I disagree completely that two-year terms work wonderfully. When a public servant is forced to run every other year, he’s forced to raise money more often, which puts too much power in the hands of the wealthiest, most influential among us. If he’s running every other year, he’s working one year for us…and the next year for himself. That’s nuts!

      • It seems like some version of publicly financed elections might be in order then.

        I agree with Philip. Two-year terms are important, because of the potential for voter feedback that they allow. The fault is not in the term length, but in the financing system.

  11. I’ve also wondered about a 4-year term or maybe 3-year term. I understand that the 2-year term is meant to help oust the rotten eggs sooner rather than later but it also means that too much time is lost on a learning curve rather than having the chance to make progress based on being truly informed. Moving the elections to coincide with national/state elections is a no-brainer though. Maybe we can get the fire union to start a petition to get that on the ballots.

    The voting by phone app idea was very intriguing. It would definitely be one less excuse to not go vote, especially for those who claim they don’t vote because the lines are too long, the early voting locations are too far or because they are too busy. So for this to take off, I’m guessing voter registration cards would have to include some sort of PIN so that people couldn’t sign up as someone else using multiple phones. A PIN would also be needed when submitting your vote to make sure a phone number spoofer doesn’t vote in a person’s place. I think the technology could be there to cover security concerns.

  12. Before concluding that the election system is “broken” on the sole basis basis of low turnout, one should first investigate the degree to which the citizenry’s preferences and expectations for city government policies and practices are, or are not, being met to their satisfaction. Very often, the people in a community who choose to vote are not really all that different in their values and sense of their interests from those who do not vote, except for the former being a little more willing to inform themselves about local candidates and issues. 10% of the electorate can be, and often is, a tolerably representative sample of the whole.

  13. I value 2-year terms very highly. Many a poor or middling councilperson has been effectively removed with them. Let’s keep those term lengths the same!

    • Yeah, that makes sense. Let’s make those council members run every two years. That way, they’re spending 6-9 months of their two year term doing nothing but raising money for their re-election.

      And that’s one of the biggest causes for the U. S. House being such a train wreck: the members have to run so often, thus spend more time raising money from special interests.

      That’s just stupid.

      • Why are you so keen on making sure that officials are not accountable to the voters? Easy fix: the public finance of elections. Stop complaining, and work towards it.

    • Actually, the record shows the opposite. Voters are not voting out incumbents with any regularity. You have to pass out drunk on a plaza bench or engage in some other unacceptable behavior to lose your seat. –RR

  14. Many people do not know or care who the mayor or their council person is. Most think they pay no attention to the people and the city manager really runs the city. Doesn’t matter they will be gone in a short while. Many don’t care as long as where they live and work runs ok. Many never step foot downtown unless they have visitors or it’s Fiesta. Your debate required finding parking downtown at which point many said nope. These are just some of the answers I got when I asked people.
    I research, I went to a debate, I’m voting on Monday but many won’t for some of the above reasons. There is too much disconnect with city hall, council and the mayor and the rest of San Antonio

  15. Poor voter turnout is a reflection of the general populace’s feeling that City Hall and unelected bureaucrats run the show anyway, and their votes do not matter. THAT is the ugly reality. It’s not because San Antonians are suppressed or stupid. They feel hopeless to make actual change.

  16. “Moving the election date to November to coincide with state and national elections also would boost turnout and interest.”

    There you go…until this simple act is done, all the suggested elaborate solutions involving creative participatory technology, greater civics education, radical changes in electoral systems, and voter encouragement campaigns remain little more than ineffective romantic teasers. We should start with the biggest bang for the least cost, and if we cannot even make that simple technical change, then we have no hope of succeeding with any of the more complicated pushes against a culture of civic apathy.

    So, where is the petition to move and consolidate city elections from the current odd date, which is admittedly maintained to reduce participation and thereby successfully suppress citizen democracy, to an actually functional and broadly recognized election day?

  17. Politicians love low voter turnout that can be controlled during el. So do not expect you local politicians to move to improve voter turn out.

    The voters should become better educated on the issues and track the records of the candidates that are running.

    Next we should Not allow these politicians to stay in office for more the a couple of years unless they are truly representing the community which most do not.

    We need to expose the pay to play environment that is so common in local government.

    Remember the establishment publications like this one and money brokers would prefer that we not vote and allow them to run our goverment. The time for change is now as we saw it in the charter changes a few months ago. Come out and vote, lets put the fear of the voting booth on all these politicians.

    • Robert Gonzales, do you really think the Rivard Report (which you call an “establishment publication”) would prefer that people not vote? I think Robert Rivard made quite clear his dismay with SA’s deplorable low voter turn-out. The article describes how the Rivard Report sponsored a mayoral debate (with free drinks! SA loves free drinks!) and it was under-attended by less than one-third of the people who RSVPed to attend. Does an organization do that when it really wants to discourage voting? Please explain why you accused the Rivard Report of wanting low voter turnout. (For the record, I have no affiliation with RR or any of its staff.)
      You say “politicians love low voter turnout.” What is more accurate is that REPUBLICAN politicians prefer low voter turnout because Texas is actually predominately Democrat by population. It’s just that the Democrats of TX don’t vote! TX has often been described as a “blue nonvoting state.” I’m sure Beto really, really, really wanted many, if not all, Texans to vote. Had more Texans voted in Nov. 2018, we’d have a different senator in Washington today.

      • John

        Thank you for your comment. Robert is an angry taxi driver or industry advocate. The Rivard Report and my column have been the subject of his rants ever since we advocated for rideshare. We do appreciate his steady readership, but his comments are not supported by any facts or logic. –RR

  18. For the past several elections, I’ve often suggested to young people I know or encounter in stores/restaurants that they arrange an early-voting party with their friends one night. Meet at one of the many early voting sites, everyone votes, then go out for drinks/dinner afterwards. Don’t young people routinely meet their friends after work for drinks/dinner? What is so difficult or outrageous or “uncool” about spending a part of an hour voting before going out with friends?
    I. Just. Don’t. Get. It.
    I asked a barrista before the Nov. 2018 election who he was voting for for senator (Cruz v Beto). He said Beto but he wasn’t going to vote because the electoral college always carries San Antonio. What?!?!?! I politely explained TX did not have an electoral college for state-level elections and encouraged him to vote — suggesting the “voting party” scenario. I got a smile but no comment.
    I was in a large store wearing a Beto button during the 2018 campaign period. The cashier pointed to it, said she and her sisters liked Beto and asked me if he won. This was right at the start of early voting. I remained calm, and pleasantly explained that early voting was going on now and she and her sisters could still vote . I suggested she and her sisters get together and early-vote for Beto, explaining they could vote at any early voting site and that there were weekend and evening hours. Her response was a vague “Mmmmm” sound, whatever that means.
    About 10 years ago, I saw a segment on the local TV news on election day. The reporter was at a popular local hang-out (BBQ place or something) going from table to table asking folks if they voted (polls were still open). All said “No.” The reporter asked several of the non-voters what would it take to get them to vote. One woman said that the candidates have to come to her to get her vote. A guy said if one of the candidates would fill up his truck’s gas tank, then he would vote for that candidate.

    • As sad and negative as it sounds…I’m glad every idiot you encountered failed to show up to vote. These are EXACTLY the kind of people who I do NOT want showing up to the polls.

      • Travis, so you don’t want all Americans to participate in democracy because they don’t comprehend the process sufficiently to please you? Uh, pal, isn’t that…UNAMERICAN? I agree that informed voters are the ideal but regardless of HOW or WHY someone votes, our democracy is supposed to be the voice of the people….ALL the people.
        As I’ve already said, when our culture puts a value on offering an excellent public education to ALL CITIZENS (not just those whose parents can afford to live in a district with high residential property values, which bring in lotsa money to their school districts), then we will city better citizen participation in many aspects of American life….including voting!

  19. I agree the election process does not motivate voter turnout. But, the root cause has not been identified in the article. At best, these are symptoms….not a root cause.
    Since a valid detailed study has not been done on this subject, all anyone can do us assume and that’s not wise. So, lets focus on why I dud not attend the candidate debate and why i my attention was not drawn to the election until last week.
    1. I do not have TV cable so I do not watch any form of TV. Local news is very weak in that it doesn’t focus on these topics. So getting the info via internet dosn’t Always work.
    2. When I began digging get into the candidate positions on issues, I could not find a single source that clearly identified something simple like party affiliation of the candidates. This may be a non-Partisian election, but party affiliation should be a required disclosure.
    3. Candidates who hold office and are running to remain in that office have violated or failed to follow through with some of their promises in earlier campaigns (Nuremberg-support of commuter rail yet no one in the media holds him accountable. If a candidate is allowed to get away with such things, then what makes a voter believe that he is telling the truth today?
    4. SA has changed and the current population increase has far out-paced the infrastructure. Project management of road improvements (as an example) is a farce. This all leads to the=he idea that trying to attend anything downtown is not going to happen for those who live around 1604 or further out. I’m too exhausted after a complicated day to spend another 40-60 minutes in traffic (especially given some of the discourteous or even dangerous drivers I have to put up with).
    5. The “value” I receive from my tax dollars taken from my household by this City Council is less than acceptable and I have seen nothing that suggests that any candidate running will make this system work any better.

    Fundamentally, the local political system has been broken a long time and no one is interested in fixing it. All I’ve seen is more politics being played coupled with disingenuous rhetoric followed by behavior/actions that strongly suggest someone might have been bought off.

  20. Low voter turnout is a problem. Part of that reason is the quality of candidate running. Taylor or Nirenberg followed by Nirenberg or Brockhouse. Plus, San Antonio has become this pseudo launching pad for NE corridor educated aspirants to come make their progressive political chops and then move on to national opportunities. There’s a real disconnect between Urban SA political groups and non profits and the rest of the citizenry. Most of the rest of the citizenry is just thankful for a City Manager system as opposed to a council run gov.

  21. AUTO-REGISTER EVERY ELIGIBLE TEXAN AT AGE 18! ! ! (and give them access to FREE birth control materials — condoms, IUDs, birth control pills, etc. — while you’re at it, but I’ll get into that more in an appropriate article).
    I had to register for the draft board when I turned 18 — by law! Why wasn’t I registered as a voter at the same time?
    Include voting info in all public school curricula — a fourth-grader can “get it” that s/he will one day have a say in who leads our cities, states and country. If school kids get an earful in school about how democracy depends on voter participation, they might get excited about voting when they’re 18.
    Make voting easy (and maybe even fun). Rivard proposed digital options. Washington State has automatic voter registration. Three states are exclusively vote-by-mail. Hey, TX Lege: Some states are making us look primitive!
    I propose a new city motto for SA: “The City That Doesn’t Vote”
    Actually, that should be a TX state motto. Put it on the license plates and let’s see if that bumps up voter turn-out.

  22. Bob, it is truly amazing. Elections that will have more direct impact on citizens have the least amount of turnout. Can’t understand it. Take the presidential election. More people vote in that than local elections. The only major direct impacts the President makes are with the economy and how good he/she makes voters feel. I guess local people care more about how an elected person makes them feel than how local elected leaders spend dollars that do directly impact the quality of life. People are strange and always will be. Local elections need “leaders” that promise a lot, appeal to their biases, and appeal to their deep seated hatreds. That may generate election participation.

  23. Can we start the conversation by talking about how one of the Mayoral candidates pushed for the move to November under the guise of increasing democratic representation only to drop the idea once he was actually elected?

  24. Four year terms with elections held on the same day as elections for the President of the United States would improve voter turnout, and it is actually something that the city government can choose to do without state legislation and extra resources.

    The average age of voters in SA in the 2015 election was 63. The average age of the voting age population was 42, a 20 year difference. Tracts with wealthier whiter and older populations had voting rates as high as 28% while poorer areas had turnout of less than 3% to less than 10%. Those data suggest that the 10% of registered voters who vote are not close to representative of the registered voter population and voting age population. (see for yourself:

    2 year terms ensure accountability to the 10% of registered voters who vote, and they ensure UNaccountability to the extra margin of people who would vote if the system changed to four year terms with elections held on the same day as national elections.

    If your goal is to maximize the influence of your vote, you should advocate for elections that are as easy as possible for you to vote in as often as possible, and that are as inconvenient as possible for everyone else. If your goal is to maximize voter turnout and voter diversity, you would want to make it as convenient as possible for as many people as possible to vote, and probably not make them do it too often.

    If you want the city government and its leaders to primarily think short term, deal with today’s emergencies, and only work on issues that are a guaranteed political win with the 10% who vote , two year terms are appropriate and really a stronger referendum system would be better. If you think the city government and its leaders need to deal more effectively with long term issues, act to improve the lives of future generations or your future self, and demonstrate leadership on complex issues, you should consider supporting four year terms.

    In any case, for the fundamental goal of improving democratic participation and representation 4 year terms held on national election day would be the way to go. But it depends on your goals….

  25. Thank you for writing this R. Rivard. Portland State University conducted a national research study on who votes for mayor – San Antonio has one of the lowest turnouts, especially for those under the age of 50. One of the reasons is because we hold off year elections. We need to have elections every four years that coincide with national/state elections. If we don’t, city council and mayor have will have no political will to accomplish forward thinking, progressive policies. They will always be beholden to older generations and a small handful of voters.

    • Thank you, Dawn. I did not know about the Portland State study until you and another reader brought it to my attention. The day after my column appeared the Dallas Morning News announced its own community initiative to raise voter turnout in local elections, calling Dallas the worst city in Texas for local turnout. We are not alone. –RR

  26. So there you go local candidates. The one who conveys this message in a convincing fashion to their constituency may receive the greatest number of votes. The question is, which candidates will promote this change? Is anyone aware of such a candidate?

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