Texas' Horrible Voter Turnout Continued In 2016, New Study Says

Texans aren't voting.
Texans aren't voting. U.S. Elections Project
Once every two years, the nonpartisan U.S. Elections Project releases a data package updating the current state of voter turnout in the United States. For the state of Texas, the news contained within the most recent report is abysmal.

Texas, according to data released last week, had the 49th worst turnout among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Just more than half of the state's voting eligible population, 51.6 percent, showed up at the polls to cast a ballot last November.

This continues a string of poor turnout. Two years ago, during the 2014 midterms, Texas had the worst voter turnout in the country among states that featured at least one statewide race. In 2016, despite Texas' prominent March 1 spot on the presidential primary calendar, only 21.5 percent of the state's voting eligible population showed up.

The lack of participation filters down to the state's municipal elections, too. Dallas and Fort Worth, two of the state's largest metro areas, tied for dead last in a Portland State University survey of recent mayoral election turnout in the United States' biggest cities at six percent.

The U.S. Elections Project report, entitled America Goes to the Polls, offers greater access to the polls as a solution for states with the lowest turnout. Each of the six states with the highest turnouts — Minnesota (74.8%), Maine (72.8%), New Hampshire (72.5%), Colorado (72.1%), Wisconsin (70.5%) and Iowa (69.0%) — offer same-day voter registration, which allows potential voters to register or amend their registration at their polling place on Election Day. Each of the five states with the lowest turnout — Hawaii (43%), West Virginia (50.8%), Texas (51.6%), Tennessee (52.0%) and Arkansas (53.1%) — have things in common as well. They all remained in the bottom five for the third consecutive presidential election, they all don't offer same-day registration and they're all noncompetitive states that fail to draw resources from national campaigns.

“We continue to see higher voter participation in states with same day registration even as four additional states adopted the policy,” Michael McDonald, director of the U.S. Elections Project, said. “The data shows clearly that same day registration is one of most effective strategies states can implement to increase turnout and help more voters participate."

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a political scientist at the University of Texas, told the Observer last year that Texas' status as a non-battleground means that voters simply don't make a habit of going to the polls.

"Texas isn't really a competitive state. So we don't have that culture of voting that you have in swing states where you're always in the political eye. Texas doesn't have that. It doesn't have this exciting national political scene," Soto said.

In Dallas County, local numbers post a slightly rosier turnout picture — although it should be noted that the county screens turnout based on registered voters, rather than eligible voters. In 2016, 59.42 percent of registered Dallas County voters cast ballots in the presidential elections, down exactly one point from the 60.42 percent that voted in 2012.

That doesn't mean, however, that the city of Dallas should expect a big turnout for its upcoming city council election. In 2014, when, as mentioned above, Dallas had the worst voter turnout in the country, there were six incumbents facing term limits and a mayor's race on the ballot. This year, there's no mayor's race and only five council races that could end up being competitive. When voters don't have a reason to get excited about local races, Dallas County elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole told us after the 2014 election, they don't show up.

“There’s a lot of candidates on the ballot, and there’s not a lot of name recognition,” Pippins-Poole said. “When you want to get somebody out to vote, to pique their interest, there has to be something there emotionally for them.”
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young