Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the upcoming election on the annexation of Erath County by the Ranger College District is its timing. The election is to be held this fall, in an odd-numbered year. Historically elections held this time are low turnout elections. This will present both challenges and opportunities for both sides.
The challenge presented by the election’s timing is that usually elections held in off-off years elicit little interest among the public and therefore low turnout by the voters. As a general rule, the elections in which the public is most interested and for which the voter turnout is highest are presidential elections. Since 1972 the percentage of Texas’s voting age population (VAP) which has voted in presidential elections has averaged about 45%. In off year elections for governor, the percentage turnout of the VAP in Texas falls to 26%, mainly because the absence of presidential candidates at the top of the ballot makes the election far less interesting. In odd-numbered years, when neither the presidency nor the governorship is up for grabs and the only elections are for local office or for state constitutional amendments, voter turnout may drop into the single digits. The voter turnout for the 2015 constitutional amendment election was 11%, and that was considered unusually high. In some city council races in Stephenville, as few as 300 voters have gone to the polls. The bottom line is that the overwhelming majority of voters in Erath County and the other counties in which this election is to be held will simply not care enough about its outcome to vote either for or against annexation.
The opportunity however, is the flipside of the challenge: Because most voters will not care about this election one way or the other, each side will have the chance to win the election by mobilizing only a relatively small minority of voters, and the fewer the voters required to win an election, the easier it will be to win.
So what strategies and tactics are likely to be employed by each side?
The pro-annexation forces have already shown impressive strength simply by securing enough signatures on petitions to force an election in the first place, assuming, of course, that the petitions survive whatever legal challenges might be mounted. Moreover, the pro-annexation forces may be supported at the polls by hundreds of students or potential students, and their parents, encouraged by the prospect of more programs and lower tuition.
On the other hand, the anti-annexation forces have an issue which has served to anger and mobilize voters in the past—taxes. As recently as 2014 the voters in Stephenville showed their anger at a one cent property tax increase by voting against most of the tax increase’s supporters. If a one cent tax increase is enough to provoke a tax revolt, what can be done with the prospect of an eleven cent tax increase—one of the predicted outcomes of the election should annexation be approved.
As far as specific tactics that activists should take, Ms. Kimberly Pevey-McKinney, the administrator of Citizens Against Ranger Tax Annexation, a Facebook group, has already offered excellent advice, writing: “Knowledge is key. Get out and be informative and factual… Contact local groups such as your Republican or Democratic Parties (this is NOT a party issue; please don’t make it political), Kiwanis, Lion’s Clubs, Veteran’s, church groups, etc…See if members would allow you to speak at a meeting, or pass out flyers/send emails to all the members. Visit your local coffee shops and hangouts to speak with people that may not be on social media. Contact your local officials to see if they can be a voice. Write letters to the editor for your local papers.” I can think of no way to improve on this advice. It should be followed by both sides.
But so, too, should Ms.Pevey-McKinney’s admonition: “Remember that everyone will have a different opinion on this issue. Agree to disagree. The passion you may feel against it is the same passion someone may have for it. How boring this world would be if we all thought exactly the same. So be respectful of differing opinions.” Information-based campaigns, conducted in a spirit of goodwill, are not only the best way but perhaps the only way to produce honest elections whose results will be accepted by all concerned.
I personally think that if the election were to be held today, annexation would be rejected, given the voters’ dislike of tax increases. However, the election won’t be held for another three months. Much can happen between now and then. It all depends on what people on each side choose to do—or choose not to do.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.