Texans turned out for the 2020 presidential election. According to the Texas Tribune, nearly 9.7 million Texans voted in person or by absentee ballot, a significant increase over the 2016 national election turnout of a little over 8 million, with 758,973 coming from Dallas county. (The specific numbers for 2020 are not available yet.)
Contrast that with the turnout for the 2019 municipal elections in Dallas. This was not a midterm year, or a presidential one, but the turnout was pitiful, with only a little over 80 thousand voting in a city of 1.35 million.
Dallas has a uniquely easy to follow city council system compared to some other North Texas cities, including Arlington. All seats and the Mayor are up for reelection every 2 years, with a limit of three, two-year terms. This means every 2 years; Dallas voters can change the make-up of Dallas leadership. The same cannot be said for the power of the hired city manager, but that is a conversation for another day.
This election cycle, we have heard a lot of talk among conservatives, lamenting the fact that they have been neglecting grassroots campaigning in favor of old style, donor driven campaigning. They rue the last several decades where they allowed the left to bulldoze the right on door knocking, first time voter drives, phone banking, and small donation taking. These ruinations are coming from a place of disappointment regarding the presidential election result but Keep Dallas Safe believes we can still take advantage of this newly found revelation: Here in Dallas, in May.
One of the issues with low voter turnout in our municipal elections is publicity. Low information voters simply do not know when the election is, where they can vote, or who they are even voting for. These campaigns are generally run “bottom up”, with the candidates themselves trying to use an extremely limited budget to access hundreds of thousands of voters. Volunteer corps are limited to family and friends, and without access to huge donors, these candidates are frequently swallowed up by the incumbents’ name recognition alone.
Another problem is partisanship. Because our local elected officials are considered “non-partisan”, there is no D or R next to the name. Those who are high information voters will look to the issues the candidate believes in changing. Sometimes there is not a clear delineation of “left” or “right”, and the more rabid partisans among the City will decide not to vote if they cannot be given a clear party affiliation. This must stop.
We have seen what damage a City Council can do in a short amount of time. After the current council dropped 7 million from the police overtime budget in September, Dallas saw an immediate uptick in crime in the areas unpatrolled by officers. Deep Ellum had two extremely violent weekends in a row, and DPD was forced to place the officers back where they should have been all along, 7 million deficits be damned.
The City of Austin reeks of dysfunction. They have been threatened repeatedly by Gov. Abbott to clean up their “defund” antics, or face interference from the Texas Rangers and a potential pulling of sales tax from the city. Abbott expressed similar concern over Dallas’s police budget cut, and even sent in the Texas Rangers over the winter to curb the exploding murder rate.
While Dallas operated under a “weak mayor” system, meaning most budgetary and hiring/firing of bureaucratic leadership falls to City Manager T.C. Broadnax, the city council has a lot of power in drafting budgets for public safety, pet projects, homelessness solutions and more. The council positions are not well paid, and they require a dedication to learning and acting on issues that affect their constituents every single day. Our current council is lacking in both experience and education on issues. It is time to change that.
This May, Keep Dallas Safe will be watching the races carefully. We will be judging the candidates on their ISSUES only; the R or D is irrelevant. This is Dallas’s last stop gap before it progresses into Austin, Portland, or Minneapolis. We will do everything we can to ensure the voting populous is informed on when, where and why they need to vote. We can expect some mudslinging and hand wringing but will not accept apathy.
Dallas, we need you. It is time to vote your heart out.