HOUSTON -- Look no further than the Blue Line Bicycle Factory for evidence of what’s at stake at the bottom of the ballot.
Dale Izard just caught a lucky break by landing a job as a bicycle mechanic, a position he trained for at a specialty school in Oregon.
“I’m living the dream, you know,” he says. “This is what I wanted. I’ll never be rich, but it’s fun.”
The little shop where he works sits right next to bicycle path running from the Heights all the way into downtown Houston, but it may soon become a link to an even bigger network of trails. Mayor Annise Parker has proposed spending $166-million on an ambitious parks plan that would connect the city’s loose network of hike and bike trails, a part of her broader package of bond proposals going to the voters in the current eleciton cycle.
Izard, who’s job security could be enhanced by that expanding bike trail network, has heard about the bond referendum and he plans to vote for it. But he’s confused about which item on the ballot includes the bike plan and he still hasn’t figured out how he’s going to vote.
“Not yet, no,” he says. “It’s on my list of things to check up and make sure I know what’s up before I go. But honestly, right now, I have no idea.”
At least he’s made up his mind he’s going to vote on the bond issues.
Nobody seriously doubts who will win the presidential campaign in Texas, but a good many Houston-area voters don’t realize their ballots could decide what happens to billions of dollars of their money. And bond issue activists worry about how many voters will simply ignore the bottom of the ballot.
“Oh, it’s incredibly important,” says Sue Davis, a political consultant working for passage of the city’s bond issues. “If we have a drop off of votes, then that could affect the entire election of all of these propositions.”
As front yards around Houston blossom with campaign signs heralding the approach of another election day, the usual clutter of presidential preferences is punctuated with signs about local issues. Small wonder, because Houston area voters must decide whether to authorize governments and school districts to borrow more than $2.7-billion worth of bonds. Meanwhile, Metro has asked voters to take sides in a confusing referendum pitting the transit agency and its staunchest critics against longtime advocates for rail.
The Houston Independent School District wants voters to approve borrowing $1.9-billion, much of which would be spent on renovating, rebuilding or replacing 38 schools. The Houston Community College System has proposed spending $425-million, mostly on expanding campuses including new facilities in the medical center. And the City of Houston is asking voters to approve a $410-million bond package for everything from new fire stations to affordable housing to expanding parks and bike trails.
But before voters can decide on those issues, they’ll first have to plow through what political analysts believe to be one of the longest ballots in the nation. It varies by precinct, but in some neighborhoods voters will see almost 100 races on their ballots.
“At the bottom of the ballot, there are these races for which you cannot cast a ballot by voting straight ticket,” says Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist who’s also KHOU’s political analyst. “They’re not candidate races. They are, in fact, races for or against a bond or the Metro proposal.”
That means many people who cast their ballots in the express lane by voting straight ticket for either party will simply ignore the multi-billion dollar bonds issues and the Metro referendum.
“All the bond people are afraid that their supporters will simply overlook this,” Stein says.
And the bond proponents aren’t the only people concerned.
“That worries me a lot,” says Dave Wilson, the conservative activist who’s launched a last-minute opposition to the bond issues. “I’m pretty much terrified about that, because I’m afraid there’s going to be an incredible drop off in people that are not going to go down there and vote.”
A lower turnout for the bond issues would mean these huge budget items could be decided by a paltry minority of voters. How that would affect the outcome is anybody’s guess.
Stein says straight-ticket Democratic voters are less likely to bother with bond issues, but conversely straight-ticket Republicans are more diligent about hitting the bottom of the ballot. However, he says, early voters are more likely to spend more time at the polling place and tackle the issues on the bottom of the ballot. Growing numbers of early voters could give the bond issues the edge they need to pass.
Early voting begins through Friday, Nov. 2. Election day is the following Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Election officials urge voters to cast their ballots early and miss the rush that historically happens on the last two days of early voting.
Information for voters: http://www.votetexas.gov/