Central Texans still need to decide who their candidates will be in several races

(RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
(RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Have you noticed those “Vote Here” signs hanging outside a public library, grocery stores or public schools? No, they aren’t simply leftovers from the Uber/Lyft ordinance election that took place earlier this month. They’re evidence that the job of an involved voter is never done.

Those signs are there to remind us that Tuesday’s Runoff Election Day will determine several Republican and Democrat nominees for state and county offices. Those signs are there to remind you that your voice needs to be heard.

Yes, most of Austin is either chattering about the failed Proposition 1 Transportation Network Company ordinance — like most of the tech world, for that matter — or talking of the upcoming presidential election. It’s easy to understand how Tuesday’s runoff election may have slipped some minds.

Never the less, it is important for voters to show up to the polls. After all, there’s still plenty of business to take care of locally – and it’s this business that most directly affects the lives of Texans. Because a larger than usual number of incumbent officeholders locally have chosen not to run for re-election, the there will be plenty of new faces.

The good news is the ballot is short since only a few items from the March primaries went unresolved, including a very tight primary race for Texas Rail Road Commissioner for both parties, the Democratic race for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 1 and the Republican race for Williamson County Commissioner Precinct 1.

Today, the surviving candidates in each of those races face off in their party’s runoff. And there is plenty to consider.

In the Railroad Commissioner race, for instance, Texans have the opportunity to elect a moderate candidate. Back in March, seven Republicans and three Democrats ran for an open seat on the three-member Commission. Now, it’s down to the final four: Two in each race. While the Editorial Board has endorsed Gary Gates, one of the two Republicans left standing. The board chose not to endorse either of the Democrats left in the race.

Why, you ask, does the Railroad Commission even matter? Simple. The incorrectly named agency regulates the oil and gas industry, and as such the decisions made here determine the state’s energy and environmental future. That’s a huge responsibility. And yet, the agency is not one with controversies including growing criticism for its close ties to the oil and gas industry.

A progressive candidate, some experts say, would be a welcome change.

Even closer to home are the Travis County Commissioner Pct. 1 and Williamson County Pct. 1 races. The candidates in each position will help shape how their respective county handles transportation, health care, criminal justice and other challenges wrought by explosive population growth in those areas. Experience will go far in these seats.

Earlier this month, the editorial board made the following endorsements in those races:

  • Democrat Jeff Travillion for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 1.
  • Republican Landy Warren for Williamson County Commissioner Precinct 1.

Victories in these races will be determined by those who take the time to vote.

A USA Today poll from 2012 showed that 59 percent of nonvoters said they were frustrated because “nothing ever gets done” in government, while 54 percent cited “corruption” and 42 percent pointed to the lack of difference between the Democratic and Republican parties as their reasons for not voting. That same year, voter turnout was lower than in 2008, dropping from 62.3 percent of eligible citizens voting to 57.5 percent in 2012.

Today, voter confidence only deteriorated. Only 2 percent of Americans said they were “very satisfied” with the way things are going in the country, while 71 percent of Americans said they were dissatisfied with the state of the nation, according to a 2015 Quinnipiac poll.

With so much change in leadership coming to Central Texas, this is not the time to be disgruntled and removed from the polls.  People say they don’t vote because they feel elected officials don’t serve their interests. But elected officials can only reflect the interests of those constituents who actually show up to vote.

The solution is simple. If you want change, make yourself heard at the polls.

Yes, eligible and soon-to-be-eligible voters are already looking forward to November’s big show, but pressing matters in our own back yard need your attention.   Don’t miss your opportunity to have your voice heard. Go vote.

City, County officials make right move by extending hours at 5 voting polls

Austin Mayor Steve Adler takes advantage of an early voting location Thursday morning at City Hall to cast his ballot for the March primary election. The Travis Commissioners Court will meet Sunday to vote on extending the voting hours at five other locations that weren’t open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m
Austin Mayor Steve Adler takes advantage of an early voting location Thursday morning at City Hall to cast his ballot in the March 1 primary election. The Travis Commissioners Court will meet Sunday to vote on extending the voting hours at five other locations that weren’t open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m

When early voting started on Tuesday, all but five voting locations in Travis County — including three locations in East Austin — were open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Sunday, Travis County commissioners are expected to extend voting hours at the five affected locations. It’s the right thing for county and city officials to do.

For all citizens to feel they are equal participants in an election, the system must be fair and equal. People of color in this country and in this state have a long history of being disenfranchised. A simple oversight can create a new level of distrust.

That’s what happened this week when residents of East Austin found — just as they had found last year — that several voting locations did not offer the same operational hours as most of the other 25 polling locations in the county.

City and county officials first pointed fingers and avoided taking responsibility for dropping the ball, but they did offer to correct the mistake by May’s primary runoff dates. This was not good enough, given that officials in September had vowed not to repeat the oversight.

While it may not be difficult for some folks to find and drive to a different polling place, many others don’t have that luxury.

Community members and political leaders voiced concerns about the unequal access minority voters would have to the ballot box. Rightly, officials listened.

On Sunday, Travis County commissioners will consider lengthening the hours at all five affected locations — the Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center in East Austin, the Carver branch library in East Austin, the Ruiz branch library in Southeast Austin, the Howson branch library in West Austin, and the Austin Area Urban League in Northeast Austin — so they are open until 7 p.m. on Wednesday and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and again on March 1.

Given so much attention twice, let’s hope officials don’t repeat the oversight a third time. Lessons should be learned by now.