Early voting has concluded in the Tyler ISD bond and Tyler City Council elections, and the bond’s supporters hope their get-out-the-vote efforts mean the bond will prevail when all the ballots are counted Saturday.
On Tuesday, 930 people voted. That brings the early voting total to 5,905.
The district’s $198 million bond package would go to rebuild the district’s two high schools, Robert E. Lee and John Tyler.
“I think the community has really responded well to the proposal and to our efforts,” said Mark Randall, head of Tyler Proud. “It’s been a long process, going back to the early 2000s, with the development of a plan for the district’s facilities. When you talk to folks in the community, it seems like they see the need and they understand what this bond will mean for our high school students.”
So far, the vote totals are down from previous bond elections, but that’s partly due to this being a May election without a mayoral race and with only one contested city council seat.
Previous bond elections have been held in November in presidential election years – which traditionally see the highest turnout.
TISD’s current building campaign began in 2004, when a total of 36,119 voters turned out to vote on a $95.9 million bond package. They went better than 2-to-1 in favor of it, with 68 percent voting for it and only 32 percent voting against.
Four years later, they returned to the polls on Nov. 4, 2008 to weigh in on a $124.9 million bond package. With a hotly contested presidential race at the top of the ballot, a total of 39,201 Tyler residents went to the polls. They approved the bond by 65 percent to 35 percent.
But in 2010, an organized “vote no” group helped ensure the defeat of the next phase of that program. Voters rejected the $89.85 million bond - but just barely. Only 66 votes separated “no” votes (at 12,840) from the “yes” votes (with 12,774).
The vote total that November, 25,614, was down from presidential years. But there was a tepid gubernatorial election on that ballot, when incumbent Gov. Rick Perry faced off with mild-mannered former Houston Mayor Bill White.
But the district regrouped in 2013 and came back with the biggest bond package yet. In May 2013, Tyler voters overwhelmingly approved a $160.5 million bond proposal, with 62.68 percent casting ballots in favor of the school district's plans for three middle schools, two elementary schools and a career and technology center. The turnout was light - 8,724 - but the result was decisive.
Tyler Proud formed to support that bond package. The strategy this time around has been the same, Randall said.
“Our focus has been on getting out the vote and getting out the information,” he said. “There’s not a lot on the ballot this time, so it’s a matter of educating the voters on what it means and why it’s important to vote.”
Randall expressed some concerns, however, that voters might be a little weary after 2016 saw primaries, runoffs, municipals and finally a contentious general election in November.
“The November election cycle was pretty strenuous,” Randall said. “There could be some voter fatigue. That’s disappointing because a school bond isn’t really a partisan issue. It’s an issue for the community to decide.”
He also noted that the 2010 bond package failed by less than 70 votes.
“Everyone’s vote does matter,” he said. “Sometimes people feel like their vote gets lost, but in a bond election, every single one matters. Let your voice be heard.”
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday.