Fort Worth’s municipal elections are nonpartisan officially, but experts say it was partisanship and the campaigns’ efforts to reach people in person that boosted the mayoral race’s visibility and increased voter participation to a record high for this century.
Voter participation for Fort Worth’s mayoral race increased from 14.11% in the May 1 general election to 18.19% in the June 5 runoff. The number of voters increased 24.5% between the general election and runoff, while the number of registered voters increased only 1%.
|County||May 1- total active registered voters||May 1- ballots cast||Turnout||June 5- total active registered voters||June 5- ballots cast||Turnout|
With no incumbent, the race featured Republican Mattie Parker and Democrat Deborah Peoples. As with all city races, the candidates’ party affiliations did not appear beside their names on the ballot.
Parker declined GOP endorsements in her general election campaign, and Peoples did not conduct joint events with the national Democratic groups backing her campaign. However, Parker and Peoples were known members of different political parties.
Texas Christian University political science professor Emily Farris said knowing which party a candidate’s ideas align with helps voters feel more confident in their choices.
“For someone like Mattie Parker, who was relatively unknown going into this election cycle, to have those partisan cues for voters simplified things,” Farris said.
The goal is for 100% voter turnout, but voters aren’t at fault for lack of participation in an election, Farris said.
“It’s not the fault of the voters that they do not turn out to vote,” Farris said. “It’s the fault of electoral systems and politicians who don’t engage the voters.”
Before the May 1 and June 5 elections, the city’s last highest voter turnout in the past two decades was 14.04% in 2003. Fort Worth ranked 29th for voter turnout out of the 30 largest cities in the U.S., according to a 2016 report by Portland State University.
The Republican Party worked harder on electing Parker in the runoff than it had ever before in municipal elections, Tarrant County GOP Chairman Rick Barnes said. Carlos Turcios, the Tarrant County GOP Precinct 1207 Chair, said the party knocked on over 78,000 doors on Parker’s behalf.
Door knocking is the most important thing a candidate can do because it lets voters know that the campaign is serious, Turcios said.
“They are more likely to vote for that person if they actually see a person from that campaign,” Turcios said.
While she appreciated the additional support from the Republican Party, Parker said she was not asking for it.
“They naturally found themselves supporting me and wanted to be helpful,” Parker said. “I could have called every Republican and probably pressured some Democrats who knew me well for years to help me. But it just wasn’t my style.”
To secure her victory before the runoff, Parker worked hard to reach as many people as possible of all demographics across the entire city, she said.
“We were the only candidate that spread a message as far as we could,” Parker said. “I could have easily said, ‘Let’s only hit these people because I know they’re Mattie voters.’”
The Republican Party made an effort to reach non-traditional voters in under-canvassed communities, such as those in Hispanic communities, Turcios said.
“I think a good campaign should be equitable,” Turcios said. “If you’re in the Hispanic-majority community and are most comfortable talking Spanish, I expect that campaign to have a paid canvasser that knows Spanish at least. Then you can reach out to those voters now they’re more comfortable.”
For Peoples, reaching people one-to-one in person was the most important part of her campaign strategy, she said. Her team was able to get 5,000 more Democrats to vote in the runoff, she said.
“I would have loved to have been mayor because I believe in the issues that I lifted up during the campaign,” Peoples said. “I am proud of what our campaign accomplished.”
There is now a 5-4 Democrat-majority on the City Council. Her whole campaign was about fighting for change, Peoples said, and though she was not able to secure victory on a city-wide level, she is proud of the change in the districts.
“I think we were able to help those districts boost turnout,” Peoples said, adding she was excited about the prospect of Jared Williams and Chris Nettles joining the City Council. “I think their progressive ideas will make a difference.”
In the May 1 election, Williams fell behind incumbent Jungus Jordan 44-34% for the District 6 seat. But he overcame Jordan in the runoff, receiving 51% of the vote. In the runoff, 3,714 more people cast their vote than in the May 1 election.
Williams had a team of 20 people working on his campaign and said he personally knocked on over 5,000 doors to encourage people to vote.
“We wanted to invest a large amount of our resources into direct voter contact, reaching people where they were,” Williams said. “That’s the kind of approach we’ll take in governing. It’s important that we continue to approach neighborhoods and lift up the voices of our neighbors to inform the policy decisions we make.”
With a Democrat-majority City Council and the county turning blue in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Barnes said it was significant to have a Republican mayor to show the party is not going anywhere.
Despite the partisanship present in the mayoral race, Barnes said, Parker will work to serve the whole city of Fort Worth, regardless of political affiliation.
“I think Fort Worth is going to be happy with their mayor in that she’s willing to serve the whole city in her decision-making,” Banres said.
It is too soon to predict whether voter participation will increase in future elections, especially since races with incumbents see lower voter turnout, Farris said. But the goal should remain 100% voter turnout, she said.
Barnes, however, thinks the city will continue to see these kinds of numbers moving forward.
“I think people are way more in tune to what happens in elections than in recent memory,” Barnes said. “That may be a reaction to the negative partisanship in elections today. But I think people are just more into it, and that’s a good thing.”
Brooke Colombo is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.