i voted
Voting machine operator Robin Coffee-Ruff hands a sticker to a voter who cast his ballot at West Philadelphia High School on U.S. midterm election day morning in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 4, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Makela

A Latino guy, a black guy and a white guy white walk into a mayoral race in Houston. Who wins? Sounds like a bad joke, but it is also a vague summary of Houston’s mayoral election held this week. Of the dozen or so candidates three were top tier: Latino former sheriff Adrian Garcia, African American lawyer and state representative Sylvester Turner, and caucasian airport executive Bill King. Given Houston’s demographics* (Hispanic 44 percent, African American 24 percent, White 25 percent) we were going to guess “brown guy.”

We were wrong. Adrian Garcia not only lost, but he came in third place. Neither Turner nor King won a majority, so they’re headed to a runoff. Clearly there are a few problems with our guess.

First, Garcia’s campaign had a few political snags that he didn’t effectively untangle, the Chronicle observes . His opponents hit his record as sheriff. A conservative wave opposing an civil rights ballot initiative with the phrase "No Men In Women’s Bathrooms" also swamped liberal candidates like Garcia.

Second, we don’t know for sure how much voters tend to cast ballots for people of their own ethnicity.

On one extreme, there’s Barack Obama, who won 95 percent of the African American vote in 2008. On the other end there’s Gov. Susana Martinez, who reportedly lost the the Hispanic vote 38 percent to 61 percent in 2010.

Third and most importantly, we forgot that Latinos have a horrible turnout rate. Nationally, only 50 percent of eligible Latino voters make it to the polls during presidential elections. In Houston, in an off-year election, the number was even worse.

Only 20 percent of Latinos showed up at the polls, according to the Chronicle. That's even despite the prospect of Garcia becoming Houston's first Hispanic mayor, the kind of "first" excitement that gave Obama a bump.

Latinos in the U.S. are growing not only in numbers, but also in financial clout. A 2015 Neilson report calculates that Latino buying power will reach an estimated $1.7 Trillion dollars by 2019. In 2016, Latinos will constitute 13 percent of eligible voters; enough to decide the election, in theory .

“However, the turnout rate of eligible Latino voters has historically lagged that of whites and blacks by substantial margins,” reads a 2012 Pew report. “In 2008, for example, 50% of eligible Latino voters cast ballots, compared with 65% of blacks and 66% of whites ( Lopez and Taylor, 2009 ).”

Latinos have the potential to steer both local and national elections. Will brown guys and gals actually cast ballots in future elections? Until the turn out, the term “Latino vote” sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

* U.S. Census 2010, Hispanic population has probably grown if anything. AA and white include only non-Hispanic. Asians are around 5 percent.

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