If you’re looking for a bright side to the dismal voter numbers for yesterday’s election, turnout at least wasn’t much worse than Dallas usually musters. About 6.5 percent of registered voters (83,000-plus of about 1.3 million) cast ballots deciding on several state propositions, Dallas’ bond package, and the fate of the Dallas County Schools bus agency. (Note: Those numbers, plus the following, are all county-wide, for the sake of brevity and simplicity.)
That’s pretty standard for North Texas, which has the worst voter turnout in the country. In May 2015, when Dallas was choosing its mayor, about 6.7 percent of registered voters showed up. This spring’s City Council contests drew a whopping 7.8 percent. Presidential elections always fare better — a year ago today, Dallas County chalked up close to 60 percent of registered voters.
So in an election lacking any big names, with a ballot dominated by the important but decidedly un-glamorous subject of municipal bonds, maybe we should be happy turnout wasn’t even lower. And Dallas is hardly alone in voter apathy. A Pew Research Center study last year found the U.S. at large trailing far behind most developed countries in its enthusiasm for participatory democracy.
It’s still a little deflating to see such a low ceiling for voter turnout. Anecdotal cases of people on social media expressing surprise that there even was an election yesterday are even more distressing. As with everything on social media, it’s tough to measure how significant or widespread those cases are, but it speaks to a general lack of awareness or investment in electoral politics at the local level.