Texas is known for a lot of things. It’s a big state and a proud state. Some say it’s inevitably a deep red state and that’s just how it is. If you’re a Democrat or Independent on election day, the deep red talk can make you feel small in your boots, like the numbers are stacked against you and your efforts and voice won’t amount to much. And if you happen to be a Texan of color, a woman, or a young person, you might feel especially discouraged.
The good news for all of us is that the deep red talk is not an accurate description of our actual situation in Texas and there are simple things we can do as voters in the near term to have a big impact. When you look at the historical numbers, you see that Texas’ red streak doesn’t go very deep. It’s more of a shallow abrasion. What’s true is Texas is just not voting in general. We are known as a nonvoting state. Texas ranks near the bottom of the entire nation for voting participation – 47th out of 51 for turnout during the 2016 election. And this general lack of voting spans across the board, across all demographics when compared to most other states. In the last mid-term election in 2014, only 25% of the overall Texas voting age population showed up at the polls. Inside these small turn-outs, the Republicans have edged out the Democrats. But it was only 5% of the general Texas voting age population that determined the outcome of that election. Five percent is not the majority of Texans you would expect given the deep red talk.
This presents an opportunity. Given small percentages, a little effort will drive big outcomes, we don’t have to boil the Gulf Coast waters, and we don’t have to move the Chisos Mountains to impact our elections. We must mobilize some relatively small numbers of people to show up on voting day. In the laws of physics, when you are dealing with small and large forces, you can find practical ways to put in little, incremental efforts that drive much larger outcomes. We experience this when using dollies to move big appliances or watching cranes with pulley systems lift and move big loads.
So why are people not voting in Texas? Some of the possible causes that have been identified range from uncompetitive races, voter apathy, lack of time to vote, ID requirements, voter suppression and fear.
According to a study earlier this year by the University of Texas, of those surveyed:
28% said they didn’t vote because they didn’t like the candidates or the issues
20% said they were too busy to vote
13% said they weren’t interested or felt their votes wouldn’t make a difference.
Some point to demographics in Texas. Texas is a young state overall, with the third-lowest median age in the nation. Older Texans are much more likely to vote, with the 45 to 65+ age group producing the highest turnouts. Organizations such as Texas Jolt! work to mobilize young Latinos, where about 41% of Texas Latinos who are eligible to vote are ages 18 to 33. Texas Hispanic adults are also less likely to vote than their white and black counterparts.
It’s hard to become a Volunteer Deputy Registrar in Texas due to lots of regulations. Texans must remember to register a month before elections to be able to vote and have the right ID ready. Texas’ own voting registration processes are paper based and manual and stuck in the past. The irony is that Texas is home to some of the world’s leading technology and telecommunications companies such as Dell, AT&T, and corporate subsidiary HP Enterprise who are helping states innovate. But today, Texas leadership blocks most election related innovations that could improve voter participation here at home.
We can sit in a room and talk about all the causes of why Texas is not voting and feel overwhelmed. These are all important issues and need to be addressed over the long-term. But what can we do in the near term?
I’m hoping you are one of those everyday Texans who simply shows up to vote no matter what – perhaps out of your sense of due diligence and because you believe it’s your civic responsibility. Rosario Doyle, a 26-year old Latina Texan in Austin, says that she used to believe going out to vote was the end of her obligation. But today, she realizes “it’s not just about voting. It’s about getting others to do the same.” To Doyle’s point, if you run the numbers from the 2014 mid-term election, if just one in four voting Democrats would have brought just one friend or family member along with them to the polls, it would have changed the outcome. This general rule of thumb should hold true this November too.
This brings us back to the idea that given small percentages, a little effort can drive big outcomes when it comes to the Texas mid-term. Do you have a family member or friend who for some reason may not show up to vote? Maybe they have some extra challenges that they face? Maybe they need a little extra encouragement that their voices are important and critical for Texas? How can we support Texans of color, women, and especially young Texans in our close circles to vote? What can we do to help them come out and vote in larger proportions than the average population, so their voices and impact be felt by those in power? As a voting Texan, just bringing a friend or family to the polls is that small extra effort you can make that can lead to significant outcomes.
The University of Texas study also revealed that Texans don’t talk with friends and families about politics. Only 23 percent of state residents say they regularly discuss political matters, ranking Texas 50th in the country. Those with low incomes talk even less. This is where we as voting Texans across demographics need to change things. It starts within our own circles. Invite your friends and family to tune into state news coverage and debates. Break the ice with BBQ, chili, and Blue Bell. Get Texans close to you talking about how the issues will impact them. Listen to their perspectives. Make a commitment to bring one person or even two to vote in November - Texans that would otherwise stay home. As voting Texans in a nonvoting state, we know helping others vote is part of our civic responsibility and a little effort can drive big outcomes. And a change here in Texas would be felt across the entire nation.