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New voters give Shade a chance to catch up to Tovo

Thursday, June 16, 2011 by Jo Clifton

A month ago, it was hard to see how incumbent Council Member Randi Shade could overcome her opponent, Kathie Tovo, in the race to be decided finally this Saturday. Although Shade had money, many political pundits were saying privately—and some not so privately—that she should just throw in the towel. But her supporters urged her to keep going. Now, there’s a chance Shade may just pull it off.


Voting was dismal in the May 14 election, with slightly more than 7 percent (31,505) of the city’s registered voters casting ballots in this race. Running on a platform of change, Tovo brought in more than 46 percent of the vote, compared to Shade’s not quite 33 percent.


However, Early Voting for the runoff attracted nearly 25,000 Austinites or 5.83 percent of the city’s voters.


Assuming that most of those who voted on May 14 have not changed their minds about their preference in the race—and that they all cast ballots in the runoff—in order for Shade to win she has to bring in an additional 4,000 voters.


With more than 9,300 voters who didn’t participate in the May 14 contest coming out to cast early votes in the runoff, all bets are off.


Calling her candidate the “comeback kid,” Shade campaign consultant Lynda Rife said Wednesday that 9,306 voters who cast early ballots in the runoff are people who didn’t show up in May. That’s great news for Shade, Rife said.


Tovo consultant David Butts had looked at the same information. He said he had also looked at voting history for those people and determined that about 5,000 of them had not voted in a city election within the past five years.


That makes them unpredictable, but those voters could be a big boon for Shade. Although obviously no one can really say what it means until votes are counted Saturday night.


Both sides have worked hard to get out their voters and both sides are now expressing optimism about the outcome of the Place 3 City Council election.


Tovo’s camp has cause for optimism because they were very close to winning the first time, have worked hard to get out their voters and their candidate has made no major missteps. Since Tovo came so close the first time, within 3.5 percent of passing the magic 50 percent mark, her task has been much easier.


“I think the intensity is pretty real,” on the part of Tovo supporters, said Butts, “and I think we’ll get a pretty good vote.”


“I was surprised on May 14 when we had more people vote on Election Day than in Early Voting ….I thought we might drop below 30,000 voters. I do not think that will be the case this time,” Butts said. He predicted Tovo would finish the race with at least 55 percent of the vote.


Butts said voters 55 and older represented 58 percent of the total vote before the final day of voting, with voters aged 35-54 representing almost 32 percent. The youngest voting group, ages 18 to 34, represented just fewer than 10 percent of those casting early ballots. Minorities lagged behind white voters, with only about 15-16 percent of the vote, he said.


About 80 percent of those who turned out were people who had participated in previous city elections. It is the 20 percent of new voters who give the Shade campaign cause for hope.


Rife said her data indicated the top vote-producing precinct for Early Voting was Barton Hills, Pct. 342, a traditionally strong precinct considered Tovo territory. However, Rife said, in the next 11 top early vote-producing precincts, Shade either won or lost by 50 votes or less. So, Rife thinks Shade has now overcome Tovo’s 4,000-vote lead in the May election.


“We have been working phenomenally hard . . . I think Randi is a comeback kid . . . we’ve made this a race,” Rife said.


Beware if you have not voted. Both sides are gearing up for a final battle on Saturday; so two well-funded get-out-the-vote machines will be in full gear.

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