Daily Texan Attacks Austin City Council for Maintaining May Election Date

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When the Austin American-Statesman, Austin Chronicle, and The Daily Texan are in agreement about city policy, it's a good idea to pay attention.

In a scathing editorial yesterday, Samantha Katsounas called out members of the Austin City Council who voted to keep the city's 2012 election in May- a time when few students participate in local elections due to finals and summer vacation. The entire piece is worth a read, but I've selected relevant highlights below. It's one of the most succinct, smartly written pieces on the subject, emphasis mine.

While many UT students geared up for a trip to Dallas on Friday, Austin's City Council made a controversial and highly questionable decision regarding a seemingly innocuous topic: election dates. Instead of moving the 2012 municipal elections to November, the council voted 4-3 to keep them in May. The highly symbolic move significantly limits the principle of democracy in Austin while simultaneously creating a de facto limitation on the student vote.

Their refusal to move the election to November can be seen as a political move calculated to undermine Leffingwell. It's a travesty of democracy when dissatisfaction with a mayor, whether justified or not, supplants the desire to enhance the level of public involvement in elections.

For students, the issue is of particular concern. Currently, the May elections fall during finals week. College students, usually sleep-deprived and singularly-focused during their exams, do not have the opportunity to participate in elections as they might if the election were at another time. Likewise, any possible run-off elections take place during June, a time when most students go back home or are away on vacation. Moving the election to November would substantially increase the number of students able to vote.

The hard facts in favor of the November election heavily outweigh the arguments made by proponents of the status quo. Keeping municipal elections in May during 2012 will preserve low levels of voter turnout and cost the city money. Councilwoman Laura Morrison wrote in a Statesman column last week, “There is no compelling or pragmatic reason” to shift the election date. If saving money and involving more people in voting are not compelling enough reasons, what are? As long as our city council members are willing to perpetuate low voter turnout, students have every reason to be worried.

Students will vote when given the opportunity to organize around an issue or election. Turnout in campus precincts can range from the less than 0.5% turnout in this year's June city runoff to the over 99% turnout in the 2004 November presidential election. It's possible that this issue may spur student organizing once again- to step up to make students' voices heard next spring, in spite of the council's decision.  

About Author

Former Publisher & Owner of the Burnt Orange Report. Political Thinker, Digital Explorer, and Time Traveler.

2 Comments

  1. Voting is not difficult
    I couldn't disagree with the editorial more. Voting is not difficult. Well, at least not at the moment since Voter ID is on hold. But that is another story!

    I am sure anyone using an excuse that they are studying, taking a test, or downright too tired to vote could use any multitude of excuses for not voting. Maybe the Ellen show had Justin Bieber on that day, and you couldn't miss that–again. Maybe your were told you had to fly to Wisconsin that week for the annual Cheese 5K row boat race.

    Whatever the reason, there is plenty of time to vote, either during the early voting period or on election day. And even if you can't do those, there are absentee ballots. So you can not use the excuse you have exams in the way, have a flight to a cheese race the next day, or the Biebs is on the tube.

    If students can use those excuses, what kind of excuses do non students get for not voting?

    • Voting IS Difficult
      As the significant numbers of minorities, people with disabilities, low income, and Limited English Proficient voters who leave polling places discouraged and without having voted every election demonstrate, the barriers to voting successfully are varied and many, even in the absence of the implementation of the draconian voter photo ID law.

      In the abstract, individual barriers to voting don't necessarily seem insurmountable.  Don't have a car?  Well, use public transportation.  No public transportation?  Vote by mail.  Don't qualify because you're just poor, and not a senior citizen, out of town, or with a disability?  Ask for a ride if you really care.  Work 12 hours a day and employer won't give you the two hours required to vote?  Sue.  Two hours not enough time because lines are long or polling location is inconvenient?  Vote early.  Same problem during the entire early vote period?  Can't think of an answer to that one.  Lack child care?  Work harder to find it.  Bewildered by the voting rules or procedures?  Research.  Don't know where to begin?  And so on.

      Why do we find voter photo ID to be so problematic?  Is it because it makes voting impossible?  No.  Each and every rule or regulation simply creates more steps, hurdles, or obstacles to overcome.  Some of these (in general, not voter ID specifically), we have determined are necessary to promote integrity, reduce intimidation, discrimination, or fraud, etc.  However, it is always a balancing act, and as both big-D and small-d Democrats, our focus should be to always work towards making voting easier and expanding the franchise, of course with an eye towards equity, fairness, etc. as well.  Once we get into the business of making judgments about which barriers/challenges/obstacles are more or less burdensome, we are purporting to know exactly what it is like to be a student or young or with a disability or to work three jobs as a single mother caring for two kids, etc.  We should be hesitant to embrace assumptions about how committed someone is to voting, how deserving they are to have a voice in our democracy, based on our perception of how “hard” they try to exercise their vote.  How hard is hard enough?  How committed is committed enough?  At what point is someone not voting because of “unfair” laws such as voter photo ID versus not caring enough?

      If voting really were easy, then one might conclude that the only explanation for the low turnout of low income, young, and minority voters is that they just don't care enough.  Young single mothers have one of the lowest turnout rates – does that mean their voice isn't important, that they have no significant or important contributions to democratic self-governance?  We should embrace any policy that makes voting easier and increases participation, so long as such a policy does not ultimately undermine the larger principles of democracy itself.

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