Sunday, September 8, 2013

City of Houston Mayoral Runoff?

Eight candidates have filed to oppose Mayor Annise Parker in the November 5 City of Houston general election.  The last time there were nine candidates for Mayor was in 2003, when Mayor Bill White was elected for the first time.

Many people assume that because nine candidates are on the ballot, Mayor Parker will automatically be forced into a runoff because each candidate will get at least 1% to 2% of the vote.  That is not necessarily true.  In the November 4, 2003, election, Mayor White received 37.54%; County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez received 32.78%; and Rep. Sylvester Turner received 29.02%.  The other six candidates each received from 0.06% to 0.13% for a combined total of 0.63% of the vote -- less than 1% of the vote for six candidates.

In the November 4, 1997, election there were eight candidates on the ballot for Mayor.  Mayor Lee Brown received 42.26%; Rob Mosbacher received 28.84%; the next three candidates received a combined 27.42%; and the final three candidates received respectively 1.21%; 0.19%; and 0.08%.

Looking at these two elections, we know that unknown and unfunded candidates can draw minuscule vote percentages.  However, in 2011, five unfunded challengers to Mayor Parker received a combined 49.22% of the vote.

Mayor Parker has one politically significant challenger this time:  Former City Attorney Ben Hall.  If there is a runoff, it will be with Mr. Hall.  The question is whether the seven other candidates will pull enough votes to force a runoff.  None of the other seven have held elective office, and they had only spent a combined $24,057 as shown on the July 15 finance reports.  Will the election this November be like 2003 when the six unknown candidates received less than 1% of the vote, or will it be like 2011 when the five unknown candidates received 49.22% of the vote?

If no candidate receives 50% +1 of the vote on November 5, a runoff election will be required.  State law provides that City Council will canvas (i.e. count and report) the vote not earlier than the 8th or later than the 11th day after the election.  Not later than the fifth day after the canvas, City Council shall order the runoff election.  The runoff shall be held not earlier than 20 nor more than 45 days after the date of the final canvas.  In other words, the soonest the runoff could be held would be Monday, December 2, and the latest would be Monday, December 30.

Historically, the runoff election is held on the first or second Saturday in December.  With a November 5 general election, the most likely date for the runoff is Saturday, December 7.  

I expect that we will begin seeing published news media polls in the near future, and we will then have more data to begin assessing the likelihood of a December mayoral runoff election.