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Election Recap: Low Turnout Delivers Victories to Dallas City Council Incumbents

The Dallas City Council will largely remain the same after a sleepy election that featured no marquee race.
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Bret Redman

The Dallas City Council that is inaugurated next month will look virtually the same as the body that sat behind the horseshoe during last week’s meeting. In an election that attracted fewer than 9 percent of the county’s 1.4 million registered voters, incumbents largely began distancing themselves from challengers after early returns and didn’t look back.

There was no marquee race. Mayor Eric Johnson faced only a write-in candidate. After aiding failed campaigns against incumbent council members in 2021, the mayor sat election night out and instead released a highly-produced 15-minute video touting his first term days before the polls opened. A little over 114,000 voters cast a ballot, 8.84 percent, with two-thirds of those coming during early voting.

There will be two runoffs: Jimmy Tran and Sarah Weinberg, for the District 2 seat on the Dallas ISD board; and District 3 of the Dallas City Council, where Zarin Gracey and Joe Tave will return in June to see who will follow the term-limited Casey Thomas in southern Dallas. (Thomas endorsed Gracey.) Incumbent Councilman Adam Bazaldua narrowly avoided a runoff in South Dallas and Fair Park’s District 7, but he closed the night with 51.57 percent of the vote.  

The other top-level results:

  • Dallas ISD District 6, where incumbent Joyce Foreman had 77 percent of the vote to challenger Stephen Poole’s 23 percent.
  • Perhaps the most hotly contested Council race was in North Oak Cliff’s District 1, where incumbent Chad West faced challengers Albert Mata and Mariana Griggs, who earned 39 and 8 percent, respectively. West won with 52 percent.
  • In District 2, which includes Deep Ellum and the Medical District, incumbent Jesse Moreno cruised to 85 percent of the vote to Sukhbir Kaur’s 15 percent.
  • Incumbent Carolyn King Arnold defended her District 4 seat in southern Oak Cliff with 65 percent of the vote to Jamie Smith’s 35 percent.
  • In southeast Dallas’ District 5, incumbent Jaime Resendez held off two challengers, Terry Perkins and Yolanda Faye Williams, to take 53 percent of the vote.
  • District 6 in West Dallas saw Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Omar Narvaez snag 53 percent of the vote against three challengers that included his predecessor, Monica Alonzo. She got 38 percent of the vote.
  • Incumbents Tennell Atkins, in southern Dallas, and Paula Blackmon, around White Rock Lake in East Dallas, had nearly 80 percent of the vote in districts 8 and 9, respectively.
  • Kathy Stewart handily took 68 percent of the vote in a field of four candidates in District 10 in Lake Highlands, where Councilman Adam McGough is term-limited.
  • Three-time challenger Candy Evans fared better than her previous two tries, but she still fell to incumbent Jaynie Schultz in North Dallas’ District 11. Schultz won with 58.6 percent.
  • Incumbent Paul Ridley had 63 percent of the vote in District 14—Uptown, downtown, and portions of East Dallas—after facing Amanda Schulz and Joseph F. Miller. Schulz won 33 percent.
  • There was one by-the-skin-of-their-teeth race in District 7, where incumbent Adam Bazaldua eked out a 51.5 percent win over Tracie Dotie Hill, who had nearly 40 percent of the vote.

The turnout is about a percentage point below the previous two municipal elections, which attracted 9.6 percent and 9.9 percent, continuing an abysmal trend of low interest across in municipal races for the country’s ninth largest city.  

Dallas County Elections Administrator Michael Scarpello said turnout was better than expected for early voting, but lighter than expected on Election Day. At 4 p.m., three hours before polls closed, turnout was lagging behind the department’s predictions.

“As of 4 p.m., 34,762 have voted, and our projections—based off of the trends that we’re seeing in early voting—by 4 it should have been about 44,000,” he said. “It was displaced turnout; more people voted early than on Election Day than they have historically, and we’re seeing some of that because early voting has become more popular.”

(He was also one of the people who hadn’t made it to the polls yet. “I haven’t yet, but I’ll go across the street here shortly,” he said.)

Robin Goodpaster served as an election judge at Audalia Creek Elementary, which had 76 voters all day. 

“It was really slow. I built an incredible Lego masterpiece,” she said. “It goes so much slower when turnout is low. It’s better to be a little busy. At one point, we got five people, and we were like, ‘Oh my God! People!’”

If she ends up working a runoff election in June, she said, “I’ll bring more books.”

At the usually busy Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, on Park Lane, a little more than 600 people had voted by 4 p.m. The Oak Lawn Branch Library, another popular polling place, approached 600 voters just before closing time. David Fisher, the precinct judge, said the election department had predicted 634. “They came pretty close,” he said.

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A sleepy election day at Lochwood Library on May 6, 2023. Bret Redman

Outside Winnetka Elementary in Oak Cliff, an election clerk sat with her back to the wall of the school on the steps outside its entrance. “It’s sad and pathetic that so few people participate,” she said. She declined to give her name.

Volunteers for Albert Mata, the challenger to incumbent West in North Oak Cliff’s District 1, handed out fliers outside. Mayra Chavez and Astrid Fuentes spoke about how Mata encouraged communities south of Bishop Arts to get engaged in the planning process for the district’s central and western neighborhoods. “I don’t know if our community would’ve known something was going on,” said Fuentes, who went to elementary school at Winnetka.

As of 4:30 p.m., just 89 people had cast a ballot there.

Further west, at Martin Weiss Recreation Center, a group of four Mata volunteers sat in camping chairs in the parking lot. Margie Madrid blew bubbles and encouraged cars to honk their horns for their candidate. There were six people in line and 188 had voted.

In West Dallas, at El Centro West, precinct judge Autumn McCall was thrilled to oversee the district’s highest turnout. Volunteers for Omar Narvaez and challenger Monica Alonzo’s family sat in the parking lot, engaging the voters who trickled in.

“I think this area is growing and is getting more and more active politically,” said McCall, who had volunteered to help with elections for the past five years. At 5:30 p.m., she made her final update to the voter count: 169 had made the trip.

At Mama’s Pizza in North Dallas, Gay Donnell Willis was busy setting up her watch party shortly before early returns came in. She chose the location because the restaurant began in Fort Worth, where she grew up.

“I feel good,” she said, tying balloons to a chair and checking her phone. “I’ve heard from a lot of constituents and supporters today, and I think I’m going to be OK.”

A few minutes later, those returns came in. “Seventy percent to 30 percent,” she said, letting out a sigh. “OK. Good. That’s good.”

As polls closed, supporters began filing in, including Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, his mom Joanne, and Park and Recreation board member Calvert Collins-Bratton. Willis ended up handily besting her opponent, Priscilla Shacklett, with 67 percent.

“At one point, we got five people, and we were like, ‘Oh my God! People!’”

Robin Goodpaster, a bored election judge.

Blackmon, Moreno, and Bazaldua held a group party at the Longhorn Ballroom, the 2,000-capacity venue in the Cedars that recently reopened with the help of city tax incentives. There was a bounce house and a band onstage, with a few dozen supporters milling about that included U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas. “It’s done and it’s time to get back to work,” Blackmon said. “I didn’t think there was any question I would be the frontrunner,” Bazaldua said as his total share sat just below the 50 percent required to make the runoff. “That margin isn’t too much.”

And, indeed, none of the races crested 10,000 total voters. District 13, in Preston Hollow, brought in the most: 7,788. District 5, in southeast Dallas, attracted the fewest: 1,610.

Much of the polling place energy came from the volunteers. Ridley’s camp cheered and hollered at the Oak Lawn Branch Library. Mata’s supporters spoke of his community organizing in Oak Cliff. Outside Martin Weiss Recreation Center, Noah Huerta spoke about his work with the nonprofit Somos Tejas to engage communities that are often overlooked by candidates.

“Not a lot of people vote in these areas, but where candidates campaign is the way they govern,” he said.

There are many factors that make it tough for some candidates to push through, like redistricting and access. But one thing pervaded this municipal election, as it does every time voters are asked to go to the polls in May: too few pay attention.

Authors

Matt Goodman

Matt Goodman

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Matt Goodman is the online editorial director for D Magazine. He's written about a surgeon who killed, a man who…
Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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