Updated, 10:15 p.m.
HOUSTON — Former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia held on to her edge against state Rep. Carol Alvarado in the SD-6 special election on Saturday night, and they're headed for a runoff. Garcia finished with 7,416 votes, about 45.4 percent of the ballots cast. Alvarado received 6,803, about 41.6 percent. Republican R.W. Bray, who garnered 29 percent of the ballots during the November general election, received about 1,000 votes, or 6.2 percent.
Because the election failed to produce a candidate that surpassed 50 percent of the vote, the race extends to a runoff, which will likely not take place until late February or early March.
Though she fell short by more than 600 votes, Alvarado said she was pleased with the results.
“We have no place to go but up,” she said at her election watch party late Saturday. “I currently represent 20 percent of the district. She represented 75 percent. I feel pretty good about how we were able to build our name ID up.”
Garcia said she was ready for the next phase of the contest and would begin looking at aggressively getting voters to once again cast ballots in her favor.
“If we called them four times [this election], we’ll call them eight times during the runoff,” she said. “I lettered in basketball. I am ready for the one on one.”
One thing supporters in both camps did agree on, however, was that turnout was abysmal. Of the estimated 292,000 eligible voters in the Senate district, fewer than 16,000 – or about 5.6 percent – cast ballots.
If early-voting results for the special election to fill a vacant Harris County Senate seat hold, the grudge match between the two front-running Democrats could be headed toward a runoff.
Eight candidates are vying to replace the late state Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr., who died in October. Sylvia Garcia, a former Harris County commissioner who also served as City of Houston controller, and Carol Alvarado, a state representative from Houston and former Houston City Council member, were the top two vote-getters during the 12-day early voting period that ended Tuesday. Initial reports had Garcia with 4,228 votes, about 49.2 percent, compared to Alvarado's 3,580 or 41.65 percent. About 8,600 ballots were cast early, including absentee ballots.
Hector de Leon, director of communications and voter outreach for the Harris County clerk’s office, said he expected turnout Saturday to be light. Because election day is on a weekend, he added, final results could be in sooner than during a fall election.
About 138,000 ballots out of a possible 284,250 were cast in November, when Gallegos posthumously defeated Republican R.W. Bray with 71 percent of the vote. As of 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, 125 voters had cast ballots at Eastwood Academy Charter High School, which saw about 700 ballots cast on Election Day in November. Election worker Jessie Goins said some voters appeared surprised that there was only one race on the ballot, and voter Valerie German, who threw her support behind Garcia, said the weeks leading up to the special election lacked the attention and publicity associated with regular contests.
If a runoff election is necessary, when it occurs would depend heavily on what Gov. Rick Perry decides. Harris County elections officials have 10 days to canvass Election Day results, while Perry’s office has 14, according to the secretary of state. The governor’s canvass can’t take place until the county finishes its canvass, and the governor has five days after his canvass to order the runoff election. The runoff would have to be set on a date between the 12th and 25th day after Perry ordered it, and it must take place on a Tuesday or a Saturday.
Alvarado and Garcia have similar stances on immigration, funding for public education, gun control and women’s health, but the two have sparred on issues like transparency and experience. Garcia has earned the endorsements of unions and several Democratic Hispanic members of the Texas House, including Rep. Jessica Farrar, the House Democratic Caucus leader and Houston Reps. Ana Hernandez Luna and Armando Walle. Alvarado, meanwhile, has been supported by veteran lawmakers like Reps. Harold Dutton, Borris L. Miles and Senfronia Thompson, and Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.
As of the last campaign finance filing deadline, Garcia reporting having about $228,400 remaining in her war chest after raising about $164,000 since Jan. 1 and spending $300,000.
Alvarado raised about $185,000, spent about $315,000 and has about $110,000 left on hand.
Bray joined Republican Dorothy Marie Olmos, 54, in the contest. Three Democrats — Joaquin Martinez, 32, Susan Delgado, 48, and Rodolfo M. Reyes, 59, also are running for the seat, as is Green Party candidate Maria Selva.