San Antonio's $1.2 billion bond draws little attention from voters

Early voting numbers indicate an even smaller number of voters than expected will weigh in on San Antonio's $1.2 billion bond.

San Antonio’s election to approve a $1.2 billion bond for parks, libraries, drainage, affordable housing and other projects is drawing even less attention than expected from voters. 

Early voting for the May 7 election, which also includes two statewide amendment propositions and local school board and municipality races, ended Tuesday. As of Wednesday morning, just 31,449 people had voted, including in-person and processed mail-in ballots, according to data from a group working to pass the bond. The group projects a turnout of about 5.6% of San Antonio’s roughly 737,000 registered voters.

In 2012 — the last time a bond was voted on in an electoral off-year — 6.8% of the electorate voted. Turnout was higher — more than 11% — in the 2017 bond election, when the ballot included a competitive mayoral race and City Council contests.

This year voters are also being asked to cast ballots again within the same month, for the May 24 primary runoffs, something election officials worry has caused confusion.

Low turnout typically indicates a bond is likely to pass, while high turnout is considered a warning sign for potential failure. 

“In a bond election, if you have numbers that are higher than what’s typical, then the odds of it being rejected go up,” said Amy Hedtke, a conservative activist who has been organizing support to oppose Northside Independent School District’s $992 million school bond. “People vote when they’re mad.”

Signage opposing bonds is posted outside Maverick Library in the Northwest side on Wednesday.
Signage opposing bonds is posted outside Maverick Library int he northwest side on Wednesday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

NISD Superintendent Brian Woods said Thursday that early vote totals in the school district exceeded the number of early ballots cast in the 2018 bond.

Opponents of the bond have been out campaigning against it at neighborhood and homeowner association meetings. They say the measure will lead to higher taxes in the future, by keeping the district from lowering the rate fast enough to keep up with rising property appraisals.

“There are clearly some folks who have come out against any bond, not just our bond in particular,” said Woods.

The school district can set the tax rate, while the county determines property values. The district has lowered its tax rate each year since 2019, and Woods said it’s likely to do so again after the bond’s passage.

“We fully anticipate it will come down again when the board approves the budget this summer for 2022,” he said. Though, “values are increasing quicker than the rates can fall.”

Early voting typically accounts for about 70% of the overall vote, said Bert Santibañez, a political consultant working to pass San Antonio’s bond. His group expects the total number of voters to rise to about 40,000 to 42,000 on election day — far fewer than the 65,000 to 80,000 the group had projected before early voting. 

Those numbers come even after significant prodding from Santibañez’s group, which raised roughly $700,000 to campaign for the bond. He said they’ve contacted their universe of likely supporters for the bond an average of nine times, through a combination of text messages, emails, direct mail and door knocking.

The Bexar County Elections Department did not respond to requests for a comment on the early voting turnout.

Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.