AUSTIN, Texas - Early voting is underway in Travis County, and Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir says she is surprised by low voter turnout.
"It’s not headed to where I thought we were gonna be… we know that there are a lot of hot issues on this ballot. Certainly the camping ban," she said.
As of Thursday, less than 5 percent of registered voters had cast their ballot. "This looks like we’re headed to a 20 percent turnout which is relatively normal for a May city election," DeBeauvoir explained.
On Thursday, Austin City Council Member Greg Casar tweeted "Alarming News: Republican voting rates are the highest I’ve ever seen in Austin…" Casar encouraged his followers to vote no on Proposition B, which would reinstate the city’s camping ban. Writing "...don’t let [Governor Greg] Abbott & co. decide elections & criminalize poverty…"
"If I want to get my voters out nothing scares voters like scare techniques," said Dr. Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edward’s University.
Smith says there is no way Casar could know for certain that Republican voting rates are high, as there is no party registration in Texas. However, he could examine where votes are cast to make an estimate.
"Meaning you can look and say "wow, these are areas of the city that have voted for Republicans in the past based on aggregate turnout and they actually have higher turnout right now.’" said Smith.
While ballot propositions are ‘technically’ non-partisan, that does not mean they are devoid of political polarization — often the opposite.
Smith cited Proposition B as an example. "It’s one that was put on the ballot by a high-ranking Travis County Republican [Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak]. We know it’s well funded and a lot of the money is coming from the Republican Party, but there’s also a lot of Democratic support."
Smith says he is interested to see if Proposition B will bring out more conservative voters, and what that could mean for other propositions on the ballot.
"If it’s people who usually do not vote, the results could be surprising. And things we thought could usually pass in a weird off-year spring election may not," he said.
Early voting continues through April 29. Election Day is May 1.