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It’s election time (again)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

When it comes to exercising the right to vote, 2016 is turning into a democratic CrossFit session for some Travis County voters.

Even as the dust is still settling from the city of Austin’s contentious Proposition 1 referendum, polls are once again open this week for early voting in the primary runoff elections.

Perhaps the most prominent race on the ballot in Travis County is the sudden-death duel between Jeff Travillion and Arthur Sampson, the two Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for Precinct 1 Commissioner.

In the March 1 primary, Travillion emerged from a five-man field with 42 percent of the vote, a strong plurality. Sampson, who had previously run for the nomination against incumbent Commissioner Ron Davis in 2012, qualified for the running by securing nearly 19 percent.

Turnout in the runoff is expected to be significantly lower than the 23,891 votes in that March primary race. A spokesperson for the Travis County Elections Division told the Austin Monitor that, historically, only about 7 percent of eligible voters participate in runoff elections. Countywide, that’s approximately 45,000 people — or about 100,000 fewer than the number of voters who participated in the Democratic primary alone last March — a number that, when split out into the four precincts, is whittled down to a projection of only about 11,250 votes for the Precinct 1 Commissioner race.

That abysmal projection adds a twist of urgency to the candidates’ get-out-the-vote efforts. Travillion told the Monitor on Monday, “Our goal is talk to as many voters as we can face to face.” That means, he said, a lot of walking down blocks and knocking on doors.

In recent days, Mother Nature has been less than cooperative with this strategy, but Travillion said he’s sticking to his plan.

“There has been some bad weather, but it hasn’t been terrible and it hasn’t stopped us from getting out,” he said. “When it rains, you take a break. When it stops, you get back out there.”

For his part, Sampson is taking a broader approach by airing ads on radio and television, including spots on CNN. Even though he’s the underdog in the race, Sampson brimmed with confidence when the Monitor spoke with him on Monday.

“I don’t give up on things,” Sampson said, referring to his previous run. “I like to keep growing. I really believe in what I’m doing.”

The connections both candidates make with potential voters will play an outsize role in the days leading up to the May 24 runoff. There is little daylight between each when it comes to policy priorities — affordable housing, transportation, environmental stewardship and public safety are among the litany of issues both men talk about. When asked to distinguish himself from his opponent, each candidate pointed to his own decades-long experience as a public sector employee.

In the end, as the cliché goes, it will come down to turnout. Even that wild card notwithstanding, Travillion told the Monitor that he’s not taking his front-runner status for granted.

“It is a huge mistake to not take anybody seriously,” said Travillion.

Early voting ends on Friday.

Photo by Eric Hersman made available through a Creative Commons license.

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