Monday, the Texas Democratic Party announced it would be contacting 1 million Texans this week to help them register to vote ahead of November’s general election. Teaming with U.S. Senate hopeful MJ Hegar's campaign, “Texas Voter Registration Week” will last until Sunday.
Young adults and people of color, who historically lean left, will be targeted, said TDP voter expansion director Luke Warford.
“Texas’ electorate for a long time has not reflected the diversity of the state,” he said. “We know that if it did, that Democrats would win.”
Republicans have dominated Texas politics for decades, but recent polls indicate that the state will be a battleground in the 2020 election. Many believe President Donald Trump’s lackluster approval rating could ultimately hurt Texas Republicans’ chances of retaining political power. But while Democratic leaders are confident that this will be the year that Texas flips, some political science experts aren’t as certain.
Democrats’ enthusiasm may not be entirely misplaced; around 40% of Texas adults identify as left-leaning, whereas 39% veer right, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center. The study also found that the state's young adults and people of color tend to vote Democrat.
As part of Texas Voter Registration Week, Democrats will phone and text unregistered Texans to encourage them to sign up to vote. Warford said that of the 1 million voters they intend on reaching, 75% or more of them are from communities of color.
The party will also host a panel on Black voter disenfranchisement later in the week, said communications director Abhi Rahman. That's especially important since the state has the highest number of African Americans in the country, he added.
“We know that Black voters are the backbone of the Democratic Party,” Rahman said. “To win this election, we must and we have to make sure that … their voices are being heard.”
This isn’t the first voter registration outreach the state’s Democrats have launched ahead of November. Last month, officials claim to have mailed 250,000 voter registration applications and 815,000 vote-by-mail applications.
The Democrats have a better shot at winning the Lone Star State than they did in 2016, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. They came close to flipping a U.S. Senate seat in 2018 with Beto O’Rourke, he said, and were within 5 percentage points of ousting Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Although the Republicans will retain a modest advantage, Jillson said that Democratic outreach efforts such as Texas Voter Registration Week could help their chances. Liberals have become increasingly competitive over the last couple of election cycles, he said, so they likely won’t need each one of those 1 million people to vote on their side.
As such, the opposition also needs to be conducting outreach efforts if they want to hold onto the majority, he said.
“[Republicans] should be doing something similar because the tides are running against them, and the question is just how strong,” Jillson said. “They’ve had a quarter century of chuckling their way through elections, and that is coming to an end.”
The coronavirus pandemic has presented unique challenges in terms of reaching unregistered young people, said Thomas Marshall, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. College-age adults frequently sign up on campus where voter registration booths crop up, but many schools have scaled back on in-person classes.
Meanwhile, voter lines will likely be around three times as long as they have been in previous years, Marshall said. As of now, Republicans’ efforts to remove straight-ticket voting from the ballot box have stood up in court, which will extend the voting process. Long lines could discourage young voters from showing up on Election Day, he said.
Plus, many prospective voters may not be excited by the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, Marshall said. All told, a fraction of the 1 million targeted potential voters are likely to show up in November, he said.
“I think you’re looking at maybe 75,000 extra votes,” Marshall said. “And that’s assuming Mr. Trump doesn’t do anything crazy and Mr. Biden doesn’t do anything senile between now and then.”
Although Texas Republican lawmakers gerrymandered certain districts after the last census, Jillson said their advantage has become watered down over time. Texas' minority population has boomed since then, with The Texas Tribune reporting an increase of nearly 2 million Latinx people.
Working against the Democrats is the fact that young adults and people of color are hard-to-target groups, Jillson said. Younger people tend to move around, and they may not reregister after they relocate to a new county. People of color are more likely than Anglo voters to be poor, he added, so registering to vote may be less of a priority for them.
But Rahman said that considering how Republican politicians have led during the coronavirus pandemic, the state's voters are ready for a change.
“Texas was never a red state,” he said, “and 2020 is the year where demographics meet destiny and Texas flips.”
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