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Austin resident Bee Moorhead, attending a "civic summit" hosted by Austin’s KLRU-TV, Channel 18, said in a Twitter message posted from the scene: "More people voted in 1973 election when Roy Butler was elected mayor than in the most recent Austin mayoral election."
Did more voters turn out out for the election involving Butler, who served as mayor from 1971 to 1975, than the May 2012 election giving Mayor Lee Leffingwell another term? After all, Austin kaboomed in size and population in the intervening decades.
By phone, Moorhead said her April 23, 2013, tweet echoed a remark by Ryan Robinson, the city’s demographer, during discussion at the summit of voter-adopted plans to elect Austin City Council members from separate districts rather than citywide. Moorhead told us Robinson might even have said that Butler by himself drew more votes in 1973 than Leffingwell got in 2012.
Robinson confirmed his reference to total voter turnout in 1973 and 2012, but told us by phone he did not compare how many votes the mayors drew in the elections nearly four decades apart.
It’s no secret that citizen interest in local elections has been on a downslide. According to a Sept. 13, 2012, Austin American-Statesman news article, in the spring of 1971, 57 percent of the city's 93,597 registered voters came to the polls for that year’s mayoral election. In 1981, 38 percent of registered voters turned out for the city’s mayoral election, the story said, with turnout dipping to 23 percent in the 1991 mayoral election, 15 percent in 2003 and 10 percent in the 2012 election that gave Leffingwell a second term.
Given that Moorhead’s claim referred to the voters turning out in 1973 and 2012, we checked city records for precise details. According to one city web page, 63,478 of 151,368 registered voters, 42 percent, turned out for the April 7, 1973 election in which Butler won reelection as mayor. On May 12, 2012, according to another city web page, 49,336 of 461,146 registered voters, 11 percent, participated in the election including Leffingwell’s reelection bid. (Also, Butler drew 43,753 votes, Leffingwell 25,446.)
The city web pages indicate the city’s population nearly tripled in the years in between, rising from 290,300 in 1973 to 824,205 in 2012.
Upshot: There were 14,142 fewer voters in the 2012 city election compared to 1973.
Moorhead tweeted that more Austinites voted in the city’s 1973 election featuring a mayor’s race than in the city’s most recent mayoral election.
Nearly 63,500 voters cast ballots in April 1973. Less than 49,400 participated in May 2012. We rate this claim as True.
Spreadsheet showing annual counts for Texas workers in state government, 2009 to 2012, (received from Cheryl Abbot, regional economist, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dallas, April 25, 2013)
News article, "Should Austin city elections move to November?," Austin American-Statesman, posted online Sept. 13, 2012
City of Austin web pages on election history for April, 7, 1973 and May 12, 2012
Telephone interview, Bee Moorhead, Austin, April 24, 2013
Telephone interview, Ryan Robinson, city demographer, City of Austin, April 24, 2013
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