Crowded by presidential race, local candidates fight for exposure

Local election signs litter grassy areas near polling sites in an attempt to draw attention to down-ballot races. Brittney Matthews | Photo Editor

By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer

A 60-70% voter turnout for McLennan County city-school elections is expected this year after local candidates have been added to the Nov. 3 ballot.

In years past, there has only been a 5-10% voter turnout for local elections.

Kathy Van Wolfe, McLennan County elections administrator, said that as local elections are now on the same ballot as the presidential election, the presidential race is driving the voter turnout.

“Of course, presidential elections are always the busiest elections and have the biggest turnout,” Van Wolfe said. “So I’m thinking that certainly those candidates that are on the ballot are working to get their votes out as well.”

Angela Tekell, president of the Waco Independent School District Board of Trustees, said that it is difficult for local school board candidates to get their issues before voters during a national campaign election.

“You have a very small percentage of your citizens who pay attention to city and school board elections and so when you run in a general election period, I think the number of voters are going to be fivefold, and so you just get people who do not engage in those local elections and are not as informed,” Tekell said.

When COVID-19 made its appearance after the local primary elections in March, Gov. Greg Abbott gave all local governments in Texas the ability to postpone their May elections until November.

Passed and approved by Mayor Kyle Deaver, City Secretary Esmeralda Hudson and City Attorney Jennifer Richie, Resolution No. 2020-516 outlines the plan to postpone the General Election for Mayor and City Council Members of District I and III until Nov. 3.

Another special election for the Waco City Council District IV will be held Nov. 3 as well.

In a resolution from the Waco ISD Board of Trustees, the board stated that the general election to elect one person for each position on the Board of Trustees would also be postponed.

Van Wolfe said that while the candidates originally wanted to host the elections in May, they worried polling places and election workers would be difficult to find amid the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tekell said that along with many other school districts across the state, Waco ISD petitioned to have the elections in July. However, Abbott denied that request.

She said candidates cannot raise enough money to get name recognition or to distinguish their platform next to their opponent.

“Our school board candidates generally raise less than $5,000, and if you’re forced to run in a November election on an enduring Presidential election year, to really have people know who you are you’d have to raise $50,000, $75,000,” Tekell said.

Van Wolfe said that candidates may have also had to buy new campaign signs with the updated election dates.

Waco Convention Center & Visitors Bureau is one of 34 voting centers open on Election Day in Waco. Carla Pendergraft, the convention center’s director of marketing, said that as we all know a little more about COVID-19 now, it is easier to take precautions while voting as opposed to voting in May.

“There’s so many more statistics now that help track what’s going on with COVID,” Pendergraft said. “I feel like that gives me, personally, a sense of security to know where things are.”

Early voting for local, state and national campaigns continues at five voting sites throughout Waco.