Fort Worth will have a new mayor for the first time in 10 years and enthusiasm for Saturday's election is clear according to early voting figures.
Mayor Betsy Price, the longest serving mayor in Fort Worth history, announced earlier this year that she will not be running for a record sixth term. The 2021 mayoral election is on May 1, where a total of 10 candidates will be running.
According to the Tarrant County Election Administration, 91,580 early votes had been received by Wednesday April 2. This figure more than quadruples the 2019 mayoral election when only 16,985 people turned out in early voting.
The over 91,000 early voters is still just 7.8% of registered voters in Tarrant County and far less than the turnout for the presidential election last fall. In November, 834,697 people were part of a record turnout at the ballot.
In the 2019 Fort Worth mayoral election, 38,721 people turned out to vote - just 9% of registered voters.
Fort Worth has a history of low voter turnout in local elections.
Why low voter turnout?
Harris County election clerk Jose Mendoza watches over voting booths, Monday, June 29, 2020, in Houston. Early voting for the Texas primary runoffs began Monday (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Allan Saxe, an American political scientist and retired professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, said that the public is not stirred up much by local elections, though they are still important.
“Local elections are crucial because they deal with everyday basic needs such as public safety, water and sewage, and transportation,” Saxe said. “You can directly contact them and attend their meeting; you do not need to travel to Washington D.C. or even Austin.”
Saxe said that his theory is that most local governments do their job very well, so they do not direct attention towards themselves.
Keisha Braziel-Davis, a Tarrant County leadership coordinator who is a part of VOTE FORT WORTH , said that the COVID-19 pandemic should have been a wakeup call on local government.
“Your everyday life depends on your local politicians bringing in businesses, crime prevention or control, neighborhood services and code compliance,” Davis said. “When people are aware of what the city actually does they will vote better.”
TCU Political Science Professor James Riddlesperger said that it makes sense that national elections are more focused on as they are important, but voter turnout for local elections can be “depressing.”
“In 2020, about 2/3 of Americans voted in the presidential election, turnout in state elections is about 50% in a good year,” Riddlesperger said. “In the mayor’s race in Fort Worth two years ago, about 8.9% of residents voted.”
Riddlesperger said that one reason for this is that local elections in Texas are nonpartisan, which means voters have to learn about candidates themselves and cannot simply rely on party labels to make choices.
“In other words, the importance of local elections is not matched by voter participation,” he said.
Joanne Green, another political science professor at TCU, said that these low turnout rates can be by design.
"Localities like Fort Worth have their elections on years when there are no national or state elections so that voters focus only on local issues when casting their votes," Green said. "However, a consequence is that only a small proportion of voters are focused on local issues enough to participate."
Green added that participating in local politics makes more sense as less people participate.
"The relative impact of participation can be large," she said.
To vote or to not vote at TCU
A jogger carries a Vote! flag as he passes a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Hugh Steel, a junior finance major, said that he will not be voting in the election because he does not know enough about the candidates.
“Being a fulltime student, working part time, and being a major part of an organization on campus, I found myself not having time to keep up with local elections,” Steel said. “I do not want to vote in the election unless I am fully aware of the parties involved.”
Ford Johnson, a sophomore finance and accounting major, said he is planning on voting because he thinks it is important everyone exercises their right to vote whenever possible.
"Fort Worth is now a top 15 largest city in the country and growing at an unforeseen rate," Johnson said. "Deciding who will run Fort Worth and lead us through the change in the coming years is something we should all care about."
There is a crowded field of 10 candidates running for office who are listed below.
A graphic of the mayoral candidates (infogram)
This election has proven to be an expensive one as well.
According to campaign finance reports, Mattie Parker led the candidates in funding with her campaign bringing in nearly $654,000. Councilman Brian Byrd's campaign had a little over $500,000. Councilwoman Ann Zadeh’s campaign reported $134,420. Deborah Peoples reported in with a little over $48,000, Zadeh with $34,848, and Penate with $2,681.
Registered voters can vote at any polling location from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 1. The election results report will begin being posted at 7 p.m. on the Tarrant County elections website.
Voting locations can be found here.