The results of the Proposition B vote in the Austin May 1 election show a sharp east-west divide between voters over whether a public camping ban should be reintroduced for the city’s homeless population.
District-to-district results showed Prop B supporters promoted all districts west of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1). Meanwhile, large parts of East Austin voted against Prop B.
The east-west divide in the way voters cast ballots is nothing new to Austin – west Austinites tend to be less progressive than their counterparts in east Austin. The passage of Prop B, however, required a bipartisan coalition.
The final results showed that in a town favored by Joe Biden 3: 1 over Donald Trump in the presidential election last November, large numbers of Democrats turned off the party line.
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“Solid support from Democratic voters was a necessity to be successful,” said Matt Mackowiak, leader of the Travis County Republican Party and architect behind Prop B. Mackowiak Problem.
In the run-up to the elections, however, Prop B took over elements of a partisan competition. Republican Governor Greg Abbott has deposited $ 43,000 from his campaign war chest to support Prop B and has repeatedly expressed his support for reinstating the camping ban. And a GOP-backed bill introducing the state’s camping ban law appears to be heading for passage with little democratic support during this current session of the legislature.
Save Austin Now, the organization behind Prop B that Mackowiak co-founded with Democrat Cleo Petricek, found that about 41% of Democrats who voted in the May election voted to reinstate the camping ban.
Before election day, the group sent out a poll of approximately 80,000 people who participated in the early voting. The 7,500 or so respondents said there was substantial support from Democrats and nearly uniform support from voters who identified as Republicans or Independents.
“This is a successful coalition,” said Mackowiak.
It was enough to give Prop B a healthy lead over voters who are voting against the reintroduction of the camping ban. The final results were 57% for and 43% against, with supporters beating opponents with more than 21,000 votes.
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Among them was local attorney Brad Parro, a South Austin resident and Democrat who welcomed the first steps by Austin City Council in 2019 to repeal ordinances banning public camping, sleeping in public and restricting panhandling.
“The increase in visibility was undoubtedly a step in the right direction,” said Parro. “At the same time, I have the feeling that we’ve kind of squandered the last two years.”
Parro said he had problems supporting Prop B because it didn’t provide a clear solution to homelessness. However, those concerns were outweighed by public health interests, he said. In the end, he voted for Prop B, which went against the approval of the Travis County Democrat Party.
“There is absolutely a tension between my desire to help resolve this issue and my desire to voice what I believe are legitimate public health interests that are harmed by unrestricted camping in public spaces,” said Parro.
Mackowiak said environmental concerns likely also helped displace some Democrats from their opposition to Prop B. The city of Austin refused because of the federal Agency’s COVID-19 guidelines for Disease Control and Prevention likely also played a role, local policy advisor Mark Littlefield said.
“I really think it was more of a personal conclusion people came to than they saw the consequences of politics for themselves,” said Mackowiak.
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At first glance, the results are similar to many of the Austin springtime elections outside of the year. These typically low turnout elections tend to favor candidates or proposals that will find support among Austin’s more diligent voters who tend to be less progressive.
Saturday’s turnout of 22.55% of registered voters appears meager compared to the 71.06% found in the November presidential election. However, turnout was high compared to earlier elections outside of the year. Far more voters cast ballots than many who campaigned for and against Prop B expected.
Littlefield said early analysis showed that there were many voters in that election who would not normally vote in the May election.
“Every now and then, something comes up like a no-smoking vote or something that motivates people to get off the couch and vote,” Littlefield said. “The camping ban was one of those emotional things that got people off the couch.”