Polls open at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning, June 18, and close at 7 p.m. Soon after that, we will know whether the voters in Dallas ISD’s doughnut-looking District 2 chose Mita Havlick or Dustin Marshall as their new school board trustee.
All those mailers and door knocks and emails and yard signs you’re seeing can be attributed to the fact that no one knows which way the votes will go. The 43 percent of votes Marshall collected in the May 7 general election doesn’t give any indication that he will win this race, just as Havlick’s 28 percent doesn’t mean she will lose it.
The paltry turnout for Dallas elections, and the even more pathetic turnout for runoffs, makes every election unpredictable. Just ask Gary Griffith or Mary Poss, both former East Dallas city councilmembers, whose fortunes changed between the general election and runoff.
Poss first ran for City Council in 1989 and collected a whopping 49.5 percent of votes, almost doubling her two opponents’ vote counts and nearly eking out a win. But in the runoff, a mere two weeks later, the late Glenn Box bested her by roughly 600 votes and took the seat.
“As it turned out, an awful lot of people thought I had won,” Poss recalls.
The runoff was also the weekend of a YMCA Indian Princess daddy-daughter campout (since renamed YMCA Adventure Guides), plus “half of Lakewood was at the 50th reunion for Woodrow Wilson High School,” she says. Afterward, “people said to me, ‘What do you mean you didn’t win?’ I counted up that I had more people say, ‘I would’ve voted if I had known,’ than I needed votes.”
Poss didn’t give up; she ran again in 1995 and won the general election outright. She served four two-year terms, with no opponents in the following three elections, and eventually became mayor pro tem and even acting mayor for a few months.
Griffith had the opposite experience. He faced three opponents in the 2003 general election and came in a couple hundred votes behind Roxan Staff, who had served six years on the Dallas ISD school board, from 1996-2002. When they competed in the runoff, however, Griffith won by more than 1,500 votes.
“Most people were shocked because they thought it was going to be as close as the election,” Griffith recalls. “I was fortunate that everybody came right back to help me. My name ID was zero and my opponent’s name ID was huge, and she had probably twice as many yard signs. People thought, ‘Well, this race is over,’ but it didn’t turn out that way.”
So whom do they think will win tomorrow’s runoff?
“The formula is simple: The one who gets the largest percentage of their orignial voters back out wins the runoff,” Griffith says. “People tend to move on to other things and sort of forget that you’ve been left hanging with uncertainty in the election. Literally, a few votes do determine the election.”
Poss says her campaign made that mistake in the 1989 election, and “sadly, school board races don’t typically get a big turnout anyway, so it’s very easy for the election to change on a small number.”
At this point, pretty much everyone has made up their minds as to whom they will vote for, including Dallas media, with most opining instead of reporting. The Dallas Morning News coverage early this week when Suzanne Smith, who was 46 votes shy of making it into the runoff, endorsed Marshall, reversing her decision to stay neutral, was an editorial endorsing her endorsement.
Neighborhood resident and Observer columnist Jim Schutze gave his non-quite-endorsement of Marshall this week based on his reporting of the candidates’ differing approaches to the new and controversial merit pay structure for teachers. Formally named the Teacher Excellence Initiative, the structure was instated under former DISD superintendent Mike Miles and championed by previous District 2 trustee and current Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath. Under the next board regime, it will certainly be a topic of discussion, probably a prospect for revision and possibly a contender for expulsion.
But will this issue, which seems to be the one with the most separation between Marshall and Havlick, determine the race? Will the endorsements make a difference, whether Smith’s or Schutze’s or the DMN’s, or the countless dignitaries and neighbors who stand behind Havlick and Marshall? Or will it come down to passion, which Schutze acknowledges is squarely in Havlick’s favor?
At the end of the the day tomorrow, all that matters is one thing: “It’s just totally dependent on who gets those voters out,” Poss says.