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By the end of Election Day, five Texas cities have voted to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession.
After Austin voters overwhelmingly approved the proposition to decriminalize carrying small amounts of marijuana in May, Ground Game Texas — the progressive group behind that effort — successfully worked with local organizations and pushed for similar measures to appear on the ballots of Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights for the midterms cycle.
Voters in these cities have now shown strong support for the proposals at the polls.
The campaign saw the highest level of support in San Marcos — home to Texas State University — with nearly 82% of the votes. Denton, which has several university campuses, saw more than 70% of the votes backing the proposition.
In Killeen, known for its proximity to military base Fort Hood, close to 70% of voters approved the proposition. Elgin, just outside of Austin, saw almost 75% of votes in support of the reform. And on the low end, more than 60% of voters in Harker Heights in Bell County casted ballots in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.
How Texas counts ballots
How can I check whether my ballot was counted?
Voters can check with their county election officials to see whether their vote was counted. Some counties also make this information available on their websites. Find your county website here. Who a person voted for is not public record. If you voted through a provisional ballot because of an administrative issue or photo ID problem, you should receive a notice by mail letting you know if your ballot was counted by Dec. 2. Voters who vote by mail can use an online tracker to check the status of their mail-in ballot. You can access the tracker here.
How are votes counted in Texas elections?
County officials can begin counting early voting results, including mail-in ballots, on as early as the last day of early voting in large counties. Those results are usually posted online shortly after polls close at 7 p.m. on Election Day. Counties must count results from each polling location within 24 hours of the polls closing. Those counts are added in increments to the tally, which is then updated online. This takes time as polling places are closed down and election materials are transported back to county election officials. Election Day results are unofficial because officials still have to account for late arriving mail-in ballots, ballots from military or overseas voters and provisional ballots.
Where can I see election results?
For federal, district and state elections, you can find results on our results page. The data is from our partner Decision Desk HQ, which gathers information from the Texas Secretary of State’s office and a representative sample of 50 counties to provide estimates as to how many votes are left to be counted and call winners. For local elections, you can find results on your county’s website. Find yours here.
How are ballots and elections protected in Texas?
Voting machines and software are certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and the Texas Secretary of State. Machines used to mark and read ballots cannot connect to the internet to protect against hacking. The machines also have seals with unique serial numbers and are locked down at the end of voting. Paper ballots are also stored in locked boxes and must be preserved for at least 22 months after an election. Texas requires counties that use electronic machines to count votes to conduct a partial manual audit after the election. Read more about election safeguards here.
How common is voter fraud?
Several studies, reports and courts have found that voter fraud is relatively rare, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute. Instances of alleged fraud have also in some cases turned out to be mistakes by elections administrators or voters, according to the center. The Texas Secretary of State’s office launched an audit of the 2020 election results in Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin Counties. The audit is ongoing, but an initial report found few discrepancies between manual and electronic counts. The Texas Attorney General’s office also opened 390 cases looking at potential electoral fraud from January 2020 to September 2022, but it only secured five election-related convictions during that period.
“These meaningful reforms will keep people out of jail and save scarce public resources for more important public safety needs,” said Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas and a former Democrat congressional candidate. “We’re extremely happy with our results.”
Like Austin’s ordinance, the successful propositions establish city ordinances that end low-level enforcement, including citations and arrests for possessing less than four ounces of marijuana and related drug paraphernalia, in most cases. They also largely ban using city funds and staff to test substances for THC, the cannabis plant’s chemical that gets users high.
The proposals are possible because these are home-rule cities — jurisdictions that are able to create ordinances if they are not explicitly forbidden by Texas or federal law.
The state currently treats the substances differently depending on their level of THC. For example, it legalized hemp, which has less THC than marijuana, in 2019. Then in 2021, the Texas House approved a bill to reduce penalties for minor marijuana possession, but it died in the Senate.
Last month, President Joe Biden also issued pardons for all federal marijuana possession cases and called on states to do the same. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was reelected Tuesday, did not directly say if the state would follow suit, but he has previously shown support for lessening penalties for low-level marijuana possession.
Ultimately, Ground Game Texas hoped to use the campaign to boost turnout, especially among young voters.
“We wanted to use workers, wages and weed to engage new voters,” Siegel said.
Looking ahead, Ground Game Texas will continue working with on-the-ground groups to place progressive measures on local ballots. They aim to put the measure along with several other propositions, including abortion decriminalization, in front of San Antonio voters in May 2023. And similar efforts are likely to pop up in other big cities like Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston in the 2024 elections, Siegel added.
“We’re hoping that we can prove not only that these issues are popular, but they also boosted turnout in the communities that are on the ballot,” he said. “And in the days following this election, we’re going to be having lots of conversations with folks about the next cycle.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit statewide news organization dedicated to keeping Texans informed on politics and policy issues that impact their communities. This election season, Texans around the state will turn to The Texas Tribune for the information they need on voting, election results, analysis of key races and more. Get the latest.