After 2016 when Frisco voters were asked to go to the polls eight times, some local officials are concerned about voter turnout for elections this year that will change the makeup of Frisco leadership and other major issues.
In May, there will be a combined total of nine seats at stake for Frisco City Council, Frisco ISD school board and Collin College board of trustees. The college is also holding a $600 million bond election that, if approved, would help finance the college’s long-range master plan that includes additional campuses in other cities in the county.
Matthew Eshbaugh-Soho, University of North Texas political science professor, said more than 50 percent of U.S. citizens vote in the U.S. presidential election, but the local councils, boards and issues have a more direct impact on voters.
“I know we think the president is powerful, and indeed that’s true, but it’s the city council and the school board that are making more immediate choices and policies that are going to have more of an impact on your everyday life.”
Frisco Chamber of Commerce President Tony Felker said the increased number of elections in 2016 was not a big issue, especially with the additional activity surrounding the presidential election. However, he said he is more worried about getting people to the polls in 2017.
“In 2016, we had different types of elections such as the alcohol proposition in May and the [tax ratification election] in August; I think for the first time it was new, different and we could have fun with it, and it all led to the presidential election,” Felker said. “This year though, I’m really worried because it’s not new or fun anymore; it’s like the new norm.”
Voters turned down both the alcohol proposition and the tax ratification election in 2016.
Polarizing issues “are easy for people to form opinions about, and they want to be part of that because they see that it matters directly to them,” Eshbaugh-Soho said. “But in regular elections, it’s difficult to bring people to the polls.”
Eshbaugh-Soho said it is a long-term effort to have people understand the importance and value of participating in local elections.
Felker said the average Frisco voter expects elections once or twice a year, but a special election and a runoff election have already taken place this year, both of which had a voter turnout of about 5 percent. More seats will be up for election in May.
“When you have them back to back, that’s what really scares me, because we’re already having a low voter turnout, and [with] this continued number of elections, people are just going to get fatigued and burned out,” he said.
Eshbaugh-Soho said voters often do not realize so many local council and board seats will be decided in a single election when they face multiple elections each year.
“When you increase the number of elections, you decrease turnout in part because people don’t see the point or don’t have time, so they just tune out,” Eshbaugh-Soha said.
According to city of Frisco data, thousands of people move to the city each year. In the past three months, at least 1,000 people have moved to Frisco.
“If you just moved to Frisco, you may not be engaged enough in the community, and it may take five or 10 years to feel like you’re really part of the community,” Eshbaugh-Soho said.
In the March 25 special runoff election, Frisco had 89,047 registered voters, and 4,255 votes were cast.
“Decisions are made by those who show up,” Felker said. “Registration here in Frisco is not a problem. If you were to count the number of registered voters, it’s ridiculously high. But then when we have a 4 percent turnout, that’s when it’s so disappointing.”
Potential voter fatigue is factoring into the chamber’s decision of when to potentially bring forward another alcohol election. The chamber is considering a November alcohol ballot measure, but Felker said given the heavy election season, it might be something that would require further delay.
“Voters are getting so voted out that regardless of the issue, you have to take into consideration the [election environment],” Felker said. “Research is still ongoing, but we knew that this May election was going to be crazy, and this would not be the right time to bring anything different forward.”
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso said the increased number of elections could also confuse residents, because it is not their top priority to know about all the different elections.
“The taxpayer has a life, a job, a family, and it takes time to get educated,” Maso said. “We want them to get educated on the issues and [the candidates]. We feel that a well-educated voter is the best kind of voter, but it’s not a full-time job for them.”
Education and Engagement
According to state law, government entities are not allowed to take a position during elections. However, Frisco Maher Maso said it is the responsibility of those organizations to make residents aware of elections, dates and polling locations. Groups do this through social media, newsletters and town halls.
Nonelected officials, however, such as bond committees, are allowed to lobby for passage of a ballot measure. Such is the case with the Committee of 100, a group of community members backing the Collin County bond election. Committee of 100 co-chair David McCall said the group is seeking to inform the public about the future of the college, which affects everyone in the county.
The Frisco Chamber of Commerce is involved in every election by educating voters about what the issues are and who is running for office, Felker said.
Engaging voters “goes beyond just during election time. That’s part of what we’re trying to do, is to educate people in the business community about what is important,” Felker said. “So when we do have an election come up, they do understand why it’s important to vote.”
Collin County Business Alliance has partnered with local chambers of commerce for a cooperative effort called CollinCountyVotes to educate business leaders and residents about local elections.
“Since its inception, [CCBA] has served as a catalyst to help the public and private sectors address key issues impacting our county, such as water, transportation and education,” CCBA chairman Sanjiv Yajnik said. “The May 6 elections will have a substantial impact on residents and businesses.”
Through this effort, the CCBA created video profiles in which mayoral, city council and Collin College board of trustee candidates provide information about themselves and their vision for the city or college. The CCBA and chambers will host candidate forums.