Michael and Marcia Erickson were in and out of Oak Forest Elementary in a matter of a few minutes.
That made voting enjoyable for the Shepherd Park Plaza couple, who headed to the polls before 10 a.m. Tuesday. But it didn’t necessarily bode well for the City of Houston, which had a less-than-robust turnout for its municipal election.
“There’s a problem when there’s more people in line for a chicken sandwich than there is for voting,” Michael Erickson said.
There are 2.3 million registered voters in Harris County, and fewer than 240,000 cast ballots for mayor Tuesday, according to results released Wednesday morning by Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman. That was a slight increase in numbers compared to Election Day turnout for the last municipal election in 2015, but numbers were down this year for early voting from Oct. 21-Nov. 1.
The Ericksons, along with several other area residents who voted Tuesday, said the race for Houston mayor was the most important item on the ballot. Incumbent Sylvester Turner led all candidates by receiving more than 46 percent of the vote and will face top challenger Tony Buzbee, who received nearly 29 percent, in a runoff scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 14.
The ballot also included seats on the Houston City Council and the boards for Houston ISD and Houston Community College. There was a special election for the District 148 seat in the Texas House of Representatives, 10 potential amendments to the Texas Constitution and a bond referendum in which METRO asked for the authority to borrow $3.5 billion for a 20-year plan to improve mass transit in the region.
“I didn’t vote for it,” Garden Oaks resident Robert Bentz said of the METRO bond item, which still passed by a margin of more than 2-to-1. “I think METRO gets enough of our money and wastes it.”
For the first time, Harris County voters could cast ballots at any of the 757 polling places in the county, regardless of the precinct where they registered. That was a good change, according to Candlelight Estates resident Ray Morgan.
Per a Texas law passed in 2017, there also was no straight-ticket voting for the first time. That was fine with Garden Oaks resident Mariann Barra, but it made voting more difficult for Oak Forest resident Keith Livingston.
“You really have to do your research in order to vote,” he said. “I did a little bit but not enough, I guess.”
At Oak Forest Elementary and Candlelight Park, there were mixed opinions about which mayoral candidate deserved to win. Some said they voted for Turner, with Barra saying the Acres Homes politician “has a heart for the city.”
Livingston said he voted for Dwight Boykins, the city councilman with an endorsement from the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Union. The Ericksons, along with Candlelight Estates resident Steven Davis and Oak Forest resident Wanda Puckett, said they voted for Buzbee, a lawyer and businessman with no political background.
“He seems a little less corrupt than the others … maybe,” Davis said. “For me, it’s come to that.”
Four years ago, Turner beat Bill King in a runoff. Buzbee played a more prominent role in this year’s mayoral race and contributed to an especially heated campaign, using his own money to launch public attacks on Turner and his tenure as mayor.
Turner responded with some of his own jabs directed at Buzbee, which made the race for Houston City Hall similar to the political climate in Washington, D.C.
Oak Forest resident Stephen Newberg, who voted for King, said it’s up to voters to “sift through” those political tactics. He also said they might have contributed to the so-so voter turnout.
“With what all is going on at the national level with (Donald) Trump and everything like that, I think a lot of people just kind of tuned out to it,” Newberg said. “Which is sad, because this is where people need to make their vote count.”