New Study Shows Texas Doing the Least It Can to Increase Voter Turnout

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Texas voter turnout is abysmal at every level. It doesn't matter if you're voting in a school board election, for your next mayor, for your favored presidential nominee or for the president; you're among the minority in the Lone Star State to show up and make your voice heard.

The headlines after every election show that things aren't getting better, either. It doesn't have to be that way, though, according to a new study from the Center for American Progress. With a few small tweaks, researchers Danielle Root and Liz Kennedy say, the state could add millions of voters to its rolls.

The biggest thing Texas could do, according to Root and Kennedy, is implement automatic voter registration in the state. Automatic voter registration is exactly what it sounds like. When a resident of a participating state turns 18, he or she automatically becomes eligible to vote unless he or she actively opts out of registering. By July 2019, 14 states will have automatic voter registration. Another 10 are set to vote on it by the end of the year.

Using stats from states that already have automatic voter registration, Root and Kennedy extrapolate that if Texas were to begin signing voters up automatically, the state would immediately gain about 1.9 million new registered voters, the second most in the country behind California. Of those 1.9 million, Root and Kennedy say, about 700,000 could be expected to show up to vote.

In 2016, about 9 million Texans voted in the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

While automatic voter registration likely remains a pipe dream in a state that still has — as the study points out — one of the strictest voter identification laws in the country, another step suggested by Root and Kennedy to increase Texas' voting pool could be on the horizon.

For years, Texas Democrats have pushed legislation that would allow Texas residents to register to vote online, only to be rebuffed by their Republican colleagues in the Legislature. Based on data from Georgia and California, two of 38 states that offer some form of online registration, Root and Kennedy found that if Texas legalized online registration, it would pick up nearly 300,000 voters, many from groups that are under-represented in the electorate, like young people.

Of Texans ages 18-24 who are eligible to vote, fewer than half, 48 percent, are registered to do so, which is 7 percent less than the national average of 55 percent for that age group.

"Online voter registration makes the voter registration process more convenient and drives voter participation, particularly for young people," Hood and Kennedy said. "It eliminates the hassle of locating where to register, securing time off work and finding transportation to DMVs or other voter registration locations in order to register in person. Online voter registration is particularly useful for eligible voters who are highly transient as well as those with inflexible schedules."

Despite coming up short at the state Capitol, online voter registration may be on its way in for Texas anyway, thanks to a recent federal court decision that said Texas is in violation of the federal "motor voter" law because it allows individuals to renew their drivers' licenses online but doesn't allow them to register to vote.

Rather than implement online registration, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the decision, much to the chagrin of voting-rights activists.

“I have seen the state of Texas thwart any attempt to make voting easier and more transparent," Dallas state Rep. Rafael Anchia said in May. "All we are asking is that the state brings our election technology into the late '90s, much less the current century. This solution is feasible, secure and would be a smart move for Texas. Texas consistently ranks in the lowest percentile in terms of voter turnout. This is a glaring problem, and we strongly urge Attorney General Paxton to drop this appeal and comply with the [National Voting Registration Act].”

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