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By W. Gardner Selby May 23, 2011

Randi Shade says 7 percent turnout in City Council elections was lowest in decades

Austin City Council Member Randi Shade discounted her second-place finish in the May 14 election, saying in a statement that she can compete with challenger Kathie Tovo, who drew 46 percent in the election.

Tovo ran a few percentage points shy of outright claiming the Place 3 seat over Shade, who garnered nearly 33 percent in the four-way race.

Shade’s May 17 statement continued: "The turnout on May 14 was just 7 percent -- the lowest turnout in decades."

Precisely, the turnout was 7.4 percent of registered Austin voters. Nothing to brag on, but was that the lowest in decades?

We checked the city’s year-by-year election summaries covering the elections since 1965. By the percentage of registered voters casting ballots--a widely accepted way to gauge participation--turnout is listed as 7 percent in May 2000 when voters acted in races for mayor and some council seats. A closer look shows 38,166 of 513,072 registered voters participated, making the actual May 2000 turnout 7.4 percent--same as this May’s turnout. We suspect the web post--7 percent--reflects a rounding down of the actual turnout percentage, which appears the case for about 20 of the election result summaries we reviewed.

Shade consultant Lynda Rife said by email that the number of voters (32,869) this May was less than the number of voters in any general election since April 1965, when 21,605 voters participated, according to the campaign's figures.

Fewer voters (22,094) participated in March 1975 balloting for two council seats, according to the results posted by the city. However, Austin political consultant Mark Littlefield, a Shade supporter who culled the figures relied on by Shade, told us that was a special election, which he suggested shouldn’t be compared to general elections.

Rife said another gauge is comparing the number of voters to the city’s population. Some 4 percent of the population voted this time, she said, less than any other city election the campaign could find. "This number," Rife said, "seems to provide the most insight into this election." Unsaid: The general population includes many non-voters including minors and non-citizens, arguably making this metric less meaningful.

So, voter turnout May 14 was about the same as in the Austin municipal general election 11 years ago. Then again, fewer voters participated in the election than in any general council election in decades. Shade’s statement rates Mostly True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

City of Austin, online database, "Election History"

Randi Shade campaign, response to PolitiFact Texas, email (excerpted) from Lynda Rife, consultant, and backup information on turnout in Austin’s city elections from 1965 through 2010, May 18, 2011

Telephone interview, Mark Littlefield, Austin consultant, May 20, 2011

Travis County, unofficial election results, "City of Austin Cumulative Report," May 14, 2011

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Randi Shade says 7 percent turnout in City Council elections was lowest in decades

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