McALLEN — If there were ever doubts that every vote matters, two recent elections in McAllen offer an example.

In one, the race for Place 4 on the McAllen ISD school board, incumbent trustee Tony Forina defeated attorney Gina Karam Millin by 11 votes in an election in which 5,506 ballots were cast. Karam Millin said she has filed for a recount. 

In the other race, the District 5 city commission seat, incumbent John Ingram was one vote away from winning the May 4 general election outright. Instead, he is likely heading to a runoff election on June 22 against banker and businessman Victor “Seby” Haddad, who received 40% of the vote. There were 1,143 ballots cast in that race, in a district where there are 9,803 registered voters.

Ingram has filed for a recount, too. These slim margins have left McAllen leaders and political candidates disturbed at the lack of interest from McAllen voters, and invoked the age-old refrain: Does my vote really matter?

“It’s just unfortunate that more people in McAllen don’t vote,” Ingram said, a commissioner since 2005. “I think their government would be more responsive if they had to answer to more voters.”

Tony Forina and Gina Karam-Millin

Forina and Karam Millin both have their own lenses into the importance of voting. Forina said he appreciated the value of voting from his mother, who grew up in Cuba where the security of the ballot box was not always intact, and Karam Millin sits on the board of directors for the Texas Civil Rights Project, which focuses on, among other civil rights, voting rights.

Karam Millin said voter registration for high schoolers turning 18 years old is critical. Ingram and Haddad both said the issues that affect McAllen residents every day are ones that are handled by local government.

“The difficulty is that there are a lot of issues in the city that are important to everyone, but if you don’t vote and make your voice heard, then you’re going to leave issues up to the same one voice over and over and over,” Haddad said.

Forina summed up the city’s voting issues: “The voter apathy is incredible.” While local elections usually deal with issues — such as public safety, traffic and drainage —that are often times more tangible to voters than presidential or statewide elections, voters tend to show up at the polls for the more prolific and high-profile November elections. And despite the large scales of those campaigns, candidates said those office seekers, such as Beto O’Rourke running against U.S. Senate Ted Cruz last year, is that they have a person and a platform to run against. That’s a bit tougher in McAllen, they said.

“We live in a very healthy, vibrant city,” Haddad said. “We’re very safe, we’re economically strong, a lot of stability.

“I just think people are happy here,” Ingram said.

That isn’t to say people shouldn’t vote, of course, the candidates said.

“If you wanna have an opinion, you need to vote because you really do influence our politicians,” Ingram said.