On Saturday night, voters had their say on the future of Amarillo. At least, 12 percent of voters did. Watching the results on Saturday night of all elections, whether for Amarillo mayor or for small school districts in the area, reminded me of Amarillo’s biggest problem. We cannot motivate voters to show up to the polls.
Regardless of whether your preferred candidate or candidates won on Saturday night, you can see that our tiny voter turnout is a problem. Consistently, whether in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, or 2019, many voters have failed to show up and cast ballots, leaving Amarillo with an absolutely horrible voter turnout. A voter turnout of less than 13 percent for an election like the one held on Saturday night is absolutely shameful.
While the wound is more evident in our local elections where a simple majority of just over 8,000 votes would have won this year’s mayoral contest, Amarillo also faces the same motivation problems for federal elections. In 2014, Potter County reported a 26 percent voter turnout for a ballot that included races for governor, for the U.S. Senate, and for nearly every executive level elected position in the state government. At the same time, about 34 percent of voters turned out statewide to cast ballots in that race.
I contend that when people are more willing to stand in line for six hours on Black Friday to purchase a discounted television than they are to take five minutes to have a say on the future of their community, it signals a very real problem in our society.
Why do so many voters stay home? Perhaps there is a belief that one’s vote doesn’t count in Amarillo because there are not many examples of just a handful of votes changing an election in this city. Last year’s Potter County Court at Law #2 race between Matt Hand and Wade Overstreet may be the best example of a narrow election in Amarillo, but even then, the 55 percent to 45 percent margin is discouraging.
Perhaps the reason there are no real upsets on paper for Amarillo elections or narrow elections is because average voters do not show up to the poll. However, without those close elections, many of these voters may feel the results are already decided, and therefore their vote does not count. In this case, the problem is much like that of the chicken and the egg.
Personally, I have witnessed this same issue in Amarillo’s most recent election, even just days removed. Soon after early voting began, I was contacted by a friend who has never had an interest in Amarillo’s government, civic affairs or voting. This friend was now suddenly interested in having a say in Amarillo’s election and, in fact, recruited other Amarillo College students to go and vote. This is noble on this individual’s part, but when just 12 percent of voters show up to the polls and most candidates win by large margins, I have to wonder where his motivation for being involved now stands.
This problem does not have anything to do with who is currently in office, or who won Saturday’s elections. The turnout in Amarillo was a problem when Randy Burkett was on the City Council, it was a problem when Debra McCartt was on the City Council, and it’s still a problem with Ginger Nelson on the City Council.
How do we remedy this issue, then? The short answer is, I don’t know.
The easiest answer is that voters simply must start showing up for local elections. It is unbelievable the number of people who complain on social media, but who will not show up to vote, even with a week of early voting options. Voters in Amarillo should rethink voting by making it a priority in their own lives at election time. Registered voters normally have a week or more of early voting, followed by one election day. Make a plan to vote and then go vote. Voting literally takes less than five minutes in a local election. And depending on who you vote for, you could save money and improve your community at the same time.
If Amarillo voters will start showing up to vote, we might be able to see some elections where issues are more important than personality, and elections in which every neighborhood matters. However, until voters actually take an interest in fixing our problem of low voter turnout, our community will continue to stagnate under elections that don’t really mean anything to begin with, due to low turnout.
Our elections only matter if engaged voters will show up to vote. Please don’t let your right to vote and our community go to waste. Amarillo will have another election on the ballot in November for Texas constitutional amendments. Please make sure you show up and vote. It’s time we fix our voter turnout problem once and for all.
-Thomas Warren III, Editor-in-Chief