Voter turnout in Tuesday’s runoffs was abysmal. Fewer than 450,000 Texans cast ballots in the race, compared to 1 million that voted in the Democratic primary.
That trend was particularly clear in four small, rural counties – King, Lynn and Hall counties in Northwest Texas and McMullen County in South Texas – where not a single person voted in the Democratic runoffs. Each county had only one matchup on their May 22 ballots: the gubernatorial race between former Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez and Houston businessman Andrew White.
“I was surprised,” said Kendra Mergele, the elections clerk for McMullen County. “I expected maybe one or two people to show up ... but we’re primarily a Republican county.”
The same thing happened in Hall, King and Lynn counties — all of which are also Republican-leaning. But the fact that no one came to cast a ballot in these small towns wasn’t a shock to all local officials.
“It’s typical that people don’t show up to the polls on runoff election days,” said Jammye Timmons, the county and district clerk for King County.
Turnout for the runoffs was always expected to be low: Just 16 percent of the eligible voting population cast a ballot for the March 6 primaries, and typically half of the voters who cast a ballot in the primaries show up to a subsequent runoff.
“This is pretty much the norm on these kinds of elections there,” said Mylina Normand, the deputy clerk for Hall County. “We haven’t had much of an interest in [runoff elections] here.”
During the March 6 primaries, vote totals for Hall, King, Lynn and McMullen counties were also low. Here's the number of people who cast a ballot for governor in either of the Republican or Democratic primaries in March: 448 in Hall County, 61 in King County, 985 in Lynn County and 153 in McMullen County. Republicans overwhelmingly outvoted Democrats in all four counties, according to state records.
In Sterling County, which has a population of roughly 1,000, only nine people cast a ballot in a runoff election, according to Sonya Venzor, the county’s deputy clerk: two early voters, three election day voters and four who cast mail-in ballots.
Sterling County had two runoff races: the Democratic gubernatorial match up between Valdez and White and a Republican race for Justice of the 3rd Court of Appeals. Venzor said all nine ballots cast were in the Republican runoff.
“For runoffs and statewide races, this is typical,” Venzor said. “If it’s a local runoff for our county, we have a lot of people show up because that race directly affects them. ... Usually we have more voters, but yesterday’s [turnout] was low.”
Sam Taylor, a spokesman with the Texas Secretary of State, said his office was not aware of any counties that did not hold a Democratic primary runoff election. He added that it’s normal for counties to have no runoffs on the Republican side because races only go to a runoff if no candidate in a primary receives at least 50 percent of the votes plus at least one additional vote.
“Since there was no statewide race on the Republican side, several counties did not have Republican primary runoff elections because the candidates in primary races in those counties received a majority vote, thus precluding a runoff,” Taylor said. “On the Democratic side, every county had at least one primary runoff election since there was a statewide race on the Democratic ballot.”
In 2012, when a Republican fight for an open U.S. Senate seat led to a runoff between Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst, two rural Texas counties – Sterling and Oldham – opted to not hold runoffs at all, despite having hosted the primaries weeks earlier. The Texas Secretary of State's office said at the time that those counties had violated the Election Code.