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Mayor Leffingwell: Five Ways To Increase Voter Turnout

Austin: a pretty awesome city, but one with ruefully low voter turnout.
Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News
Austin: a pretty awesome city, but one with ruefully low voter turnout.

The last Austin City Council elections in May drew a meager 7 percent of voters to the polls, the lowest turnout in decades.  Mayor Lee Leffingwell thinks that’s pretty bad, and he’s been spending the last few months trying to sell people on making five changes to the city charter.

He talked about them again today at a luncheon hosted by the Real Estate Council of Austin.

  1. Make some city council members represent specific parts of town.  The Mayor wants to divide Austin into six districts, each with its own council member. He would also like two “at large” council members to represent the entire city. That would mean an extra two seats on city council. Currently, there are seven, including the mayor.
  2. Move city elections permanently from May to November, and hold the vote in odd numbered years when more people are already casting ballots in national and statewide elections.
  3. Change the term of council members from three years to four years. That would make it easier for elections to coincide with national elections.
  4. Eliminate staggered terms. Leffingwell says that would reduce costs by lowering the number of elections held each decade. The mayor presumably wants city balloting to coincide with presidential elections, when turnout is typically the highest. Eliminating staggered terms could allow for that.
  5. Increase campaign contribution limits for candidates running in at-large seats. Leffingwell says the current limit of $350 per donation is so restrictive that candidates can’t raise enough money to effectively reach anyone outside the small group of people who regularly vote in city elections.

What do you think about these ideas? How would you increase voter turnout? Let us know in the comments. 

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.