North Texans may be experiencing voter fatigue, if the early turnout in a special state House election is any indication.
Just a tiny fraction of eligible voters had gone to the polls when early voting ended Tuesday in a special election to fill the open Texas House District 68 seat, won in November then vacated in December by Drew Springer, after he won a special runoff for a state Senate opening.
Voters in four of the most populous counties in the North Texas House district have already faced two special elections in late 2020 for the overlapping state Senate District 30, in addition to the November general election—which also included many local races rescheduled from May due to concerns about the Chinese coronavirus.
District residents not suffering from voter fatigue may be unaware of the “expedited” election, set by Gov. Greg Abbott just a few weeks ago to fill the legislative vacancy. A rushed timetable dictated by state election law leaves voters little time to get to know the candidates.
Election Day is Saturday. How many more voters will go to the polls?
Just over 100,000 Texans are registered to vote in the vast district, which covers 22 rural North Texas counties: Childress, Collingsworth, Cooke, Cottle, Crosby, Dickens, Fisher, Floyd, Garza, Hall, Hardeman, Haskell, Jack, Kent, King, Montague, Motley, Stonewall, Throckmorton, Wheeler, Wilbarger, and Young.
About 65 percent of HD 68 voters live in five counties: Cooke, Montague, Young, Wilbarger, and Jack. (Cooke, Montague, Young, and Jack also lie within SD 30.)
In Cooke County, the most populous in the district, only 871 votes were cast during six days of early voting that ended on Tuesday—just over 3 percent of registered voters in the county. In Montague, the second-most populous county in HD 68, 616 early votes were cast—roughly 4.5 percent turnout.
By comparison, 19 percent of voters in both Cooke and Montague counties participated in the September special election for SD 30—another “expedited” election. Early voting in Cooke accounted for over 40 percent of the total votes; in Montague, early votes were over 60 percent of the total.
The total turnout in the SD 30 special election was 11 percent.
No primaries are held in expedited elections. Instead, candidates from all parties compete in the special election, and if none receive a majority of the votes, then the top two finishers go to a special runoff—a strong possibility with five candidates in the race.
Four Republicans are running in the reliably red district:
- John Berry, a financial planner who served half a term as Jack County commissioner;
- Jason Brinkley, a lawyer and former justice of the peace who is midway through his second term as Cooke County judge;
- Craig Carter, a Nocona businessman and philanthropist who ran in the recent SD 30 election; and
- David Spiller, a lawyer who’s served as Jacksboro’s city attorney for more than 30 years and a Jacksboro school board trustee for more than 20 years.
Earlier this month, the four Republicans participated in a candidate forum hosted by Cooke County Republican Women.
Democrat Charles Gregory, a retired postal worker from Childress, is the fifth candidate in the race.
Running for the same spot in the November 2020 general election, Democrat Patsy Ledbetter drew just 15 percent of the vote against incumbent Springer, who was re-elected to a fifth term representing HD 68 while running for an open state Senate seat.
Springer went on to win the December special runoff election for the SD 30 seat, which Pat Fallon abandoned halfway through his term so he could run for a congressional spot that opened when John Ratcliffe was appointed Director of National Intelligence by the Trump administration.
All registered voters in House District 68 are eligible to vote in the special election and any required runoff. In the event of a runoff, the Texas House will be short one Republican lawmaker for several more weeks. The 87th Texas Legislative Session began on January 12.
Election Day is Saturday, January 23, and polling places are open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Voters can check with their county elections office for voting locations.