Low voter turnout in May runoff elections across Texas

It wasn’t a busy election day at Austin polling locations, but it doesn't come as a surprise considering the small number of runoffs on the ballots. 

In the Austin metro area, the 3rd Court of Appeals is the big draw for Democrats. That race brought state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Travis County) to a voting location in House Park.

"The turnout is going to be really low. But, you know, democracy depends on our participation. So go vote," said Eckhardt.

Statewide, early voting numbers pointed to an Election Day dud with the total vote count under 2% for both parties. Republicans only had 256,000 and Democrats had even fewer. 

Not even two congressional runoffs have brought out the votes. Republicans in Travis and Hays counties are picking a candidate to take on Democrat Greg Casar and Democrats in Williamson County are deciding who will face John Carter. The eventual winners are already underdogs, according to political analyst Brian Smith.

"So, whatever comes out of the Republican side is likely just going to be cannon fodder for the Casar campaign. The same thing with John Carter, his district is pretty Republican," said Smith.

Other down-ballot runoffs are also struggling. In Bastrop County, Republicans are voting for a Precent 1 Commissioner nominee and JP 2 position. In Williamson County, there’s a GOP runoff for the District 10 State Board of Education seat.


House Speaker Dade Phelan is in the runoff with the highest stakes. He is battling David Covey, who is endorsed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, who noted some impeachment payback in a video clip and social media post that reads like an early victory lap.

"If he gets rid of Phelan, he can always say, I've had the greatest successful revenge tour ever in American political history," said Smith.

Paxton will have to eat crow if Speaker Phelan wins. It would be a big miss for Paxton, who still has a whistleblower trial pending and a federal investigation lingering.

"He's going to try to spin it as a victory, saying, sure, I took this person to a runoff. But at the end of the day, his revenge tour falls a little bit flat because the person he wanted most out of office is still in office. Paxton, though, is very much the Teflon attorney general. So, this is not going to hurt him politically," said Smith.

Even if Phelan survives, there's no guarantee he remains House Speaker.

"So, in many ways, this is a sort of battle for the soul of the Republican Party, especially in the legislature, because whomever is speaker is going to guide that body through what's going to be already shaping up to be a very conservative session,"  said Smith.