When I went to vote on May 6, I was even more surprised than usual by the echoing emptiness of the polls. There were three workers and one lonely voter when I arrived about 3 p.m. After casting my ballot, I visited two other nearby polling places. They didn’t have any voters at all.

“This isn’t so bad. There was a big early vote,” one volunteer told me.

Comparatively speaking, she was right. It was a pretty normal turnout. Not bad, even. According to Bexar County Elections Department Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen, 11.3 percent of 1,026,817 registered voters actually cast ballots in the recent elections, ranging from the San Antonio mayoral race and a record-setting bond issue to school district and small towns’ elections and propositions.

While 11 percent-plus may be a relatively healthy figure for a big-city election, it seems dismal to me. In smaller incorporated municipalities, especially areas with higher education and income levels, more folks tend to vote.

In the Alamo Heights Independent School District, where two trustee seats and a $135 million bond were on the ballot, some 4,750 voters — more than 22 percent of those registered — participated, according to the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Business/Finance Mike Hagar.

Now, compare that to the much larger Judson Independent School District, where voters weighed a $60 million bond decision. About 3,500 individuals voted.

In Castle Hills, City Manager Curt Van De Walle told me more than 1,000 folks out of a population of 4,200 cast ballots for mayor, aldermen and a proposition to freeze property taxes for disabled and/or senior homeowners 65 and over. He credited the size of the city, a history of voter involvement, education level and the relative age of residents for the usual strong turnout.

“Things are more personal in towns like ours,” he said.

That personal element is a big key to getting townsfolk to the polls, either to vote for or against people or ideas. In a big city – or indeed, a big country – the personal becomes paramount.

I asked Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who has been involved in elections at nearly every level, what stimulates the populace? He said the biggest San Antonio activity he’s seen was in 1981, when a young Henry Cisneros won a mayoral bid, the city’s first Hispanic mayor in a century.

“About 140,000 people voted in that election. This election 116,000 people voted. After 36 years of growth, that’s a hell of a lot less,” Wolff said.

Of course, it’s not just San Antonio – it’s statewide. In an early 2016 survey by the online financial site 24/7 Wall St., Texas ranked 46th of 50.

Americans are free to register and free to vote – or not. It’s a right many take for granted. Apathy, dislike and distrust of politics and politicians are on a long list of “why nots?” However, here is a bright spot. According to unofficial returns from the June 10 San Antonio runoff elections, a few more people went to the polls — about 13.15 percent of registered voters.

As frustrating and ugly as politics can get, it matters how many from the electorate participate. I feel good when I get an “I Voted” sticker. Even if I don’t like the results, I took part in the process. When I see a long line of my fellow San Antonians willing to do the same, I’ll feel even better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *