Voter participation appears to be down in Houston’s Third Ward. If attendance at last week’s District D council forums is indicative of voter turnout in the upcoming election, the historic community is in trouble. Despite residents grappling with concerns, from imposing development to dumping and crime, voter participation has been low. In 2015, only 19% of registered voters in Third Ward voted. We can do better. We have to.
The expectation was that an overwhelming number of residents would attend the community District D forum. It was a combined effort of the Riverside Terrace civic association, Third Ward Super Neighborhood and McGregor Super Neighborhood. Members of these primarily minority groups have been known to vote, making up a significant part of that 19% in the past. This makes the sparse turnout even more concerning.
The absence of the seniors at the community forum was further punctuated by the absence of students at the candidate forum at Texas Southern University. The university, which has a deep history in the Third Ward community, hosted a second forum where attendance again was negligible. Not as many years back as many would like to believe, it was minority students that led the fight for civil rights. At last week’s forum they were largely absent. As neighborhood dynamics shift, those voices are desperately needed in the community and at the polls.
University of Houston on the other hand, had a major turnout at their forum held two weeks prior. The candidates had an opportunity to engage with a large number of students about the issues and concerns that impact them. They were able to share their stance on those issues and those in attendance are now empowered to vote accordingly. In the absence of the third ward’s residents, that opportunity was lost.
District D is special. It is one of the only districts that is home to both the economically disadvantaged and some of the city’s wealthiest residents. It boasts several institutes of higher learning, world-class museums and the nation’s premier medical center. The candidate that takes office must be able to competently and confidently represent all of those interests.
While concerns haven’t changed much over time, neighborhood dynamics have. If residents want to continue to see electeds advocate on their behalf, they have to start by advocating for themselves. The impact that Third Ward residents make in the polls during the city’s upcoming general election has the potential to impact the level of responsiveness from the representative in the council seat over the next four years. Mismanaged hope won’t preserve the community, action at the polls will. Early voting begins today, October 21 and will run through November 1. General election day is November 5th.
You can help by arranging rides for seniors in your community, hosting a neighborhood night out at the polls or encouraging others on social media.