The turnout in Tuesday’s constitutional amendment election was less than 10 percent, but the voters who did participate showed signs that they had a definite purpose in mind when casting their ballots. Sometimes, it appeared they were landing on the side of philosophical conviction even if it meant going against their own interests.
For example, Proposition 4 authorizes the issuance of up to $1 billion in bonds payable from the general revenue of the state for maintenance, improvement, repair and construction projects and for the purchase of needed equipment. Included in that long list of projects is money to build three new prisons and renovate existing ones — we have a prison here — in addition to much-needed improvements to one of Brown County’s prime tourist attractions, Lake Brownwood State Park. Yet Brown County voters rejected it, although by a razor slim margin.
By an almost identical vote count, county voters turned down Proposition 12, which will allow the legislature to authorize the Texas Transportation Commission to issue up to $5 billion in bonds for highway improvement projects. This county has benefited tremendously from transportation projects in the past decade, and many motorists on their way to the polls Tuesday no doubt had to navigate through a $4 million project under way on either side of the “Traffic T.” Questions raised about how the state has been handling construction of toll roads and eminent domain may have hurt Proposition 12 though, and county voters perhaps were registering a protest as a slim majority voted against it.
The proposal that generated the most pre-election publicity — No. 15, which will create the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and authorize the state to issue up to $3 billion in bonds to fund research for cures for cancer — was approved by county voters, but only by a 53-47 percentage.
These are not unique situations. In Austin, where world champion cyclist Lance Armstrong lives and is regarded as a hero, Proposition 15 became part of his ongoing crusade against cancer. Still, Travis County voters almost rejected it, and residents just north of them in Williamson County did.
Analysts have suggested that those who voted against these proposals may have appreciated the need for them, but they opposed the way the government was prepared to fund them. They would contend that if the legislature considers these programs important, they should prioritize them and fund them out of general revenue — not go into long-term debt. Other organized opposition groups said private interests are better choices to manage endeavors like medical research.
But statewide, the majority of voters approved all 16 propositions. Voters may have had reservations about some of the amendments, and some may not have fully considered all the proposals’ ramifications. However, the ballots are in. Whether this small percentage of voters represents an adequate sample of the will of the people of Texas can be debated until the bonds to fund all these programs are paid off. What is not debatable is that fewer than one in 10 registered Texas voters chose to offer an opinion. Those who did bother at least performed their civic duty.