What if November’s expected blue wave doesn’t reach the Lone Star State?
Recent registration data for young voters suggest that could be the case. Even as registrations of new voters ages 18-29 boomed elsewhere during the past six months, Texas eked out a 0.12 percent increase, according to TargetSmart, a provider of political data.
That meager growth puts Texas well below the national average of 2.4 percent in young voter registrations and 33rd of the 39 states with available data.
Pennsylvania, on the other hand, experienced the biggest spike at 16.1 percent. And three other states — Rhode Island, Virginia and New York — also posted double-digit gains.
“You’re not getting the same tailwind [in Texas than we would if] we had better voter registration numbers,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. “It would be nice if we could see a greater number of young voters coming online.”
Castro and others point out that Texas, for a variety of factors, has relied largely on political campaigns to register voters, which means young, low-income and minority voters are often left on the sideline.
“I don’t see anyone raising the money to register voters in Texas, even as the population of young people continues to grow,” said Lydia Camarillo, Texas vice president for the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. “The pool [of potential voters] keeps getting bigger while there are less and less resources available to keep up.”
For its report, TargetSmart reviewed voter registration data in the 39 states where official voter rolls have been updated since February 14, the date of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, which analysts view as an important catalyst for youth voters.
TargetSmart’s findings are an “early quantitative sign” that youth turnout could have a significant impact on the midterms, which will decide which party controls the U.S. Senate and House, the study’s authors write.
But, of course, only in states where those voters register in significant quantities.
Voting rights advocates have long maintained that Texas’ failure to expand its voter rolls is by design. Those young, low-income and minority voters mentioned earlier tend to skew Democratic. And in a state where Republicans control all the levers of power, it’s easy to see why there’s no rush to sign them up.
A recent study from the Center for American Progress argues that Texas could gain millions of new voters by simply playing catchup with other states’ registration efforts. It’s one of just 12 states that don’t have any form of online voter registration, and the only state where making a mistake while registering someone to vote can lead to a criminal offense.
“Texas seems to be moving backward in comparison to the rest of the country,” said Zenen Jaimes Perez, communications director for the Texas Civil Rights Project. “This state, unfortunately, is becoming an outlier. … Very clearly, it’s motivated by state’s top leaders wanting to keep the same people in power.”
But, so far, the state’s officials are just fine with taking up the rear.
After a federal court earlier found Texas violated the U.S. “motor voter” law by not letting residents register to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses, Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the decision.
Beyond erecting systematic barriers, Texas even has a spotty record of enforcing the few laws it has on the books to encourage voter registration.
A 1983 state law requires high schools to promote voter registration opportunities to eligible students twice each school year. But a report released last week by the Texas Civil Rights Project found that only a third of high schools requested registration forms from the Texas Secretary of State from October 2016 to February 2018. What’s more, 35 percent of counties didn’t have a single high school request a voter registration form.
Even at schools that make forms available, Southwest Voter’s Camarillo questioned how seriously officials take the requirements. Simply having registration cards on hand, she points out, is not the same as helping students understand how voting affects their lives.
“I heard someone from one of the school districts say, ‘We’re happy if we get 10 percent of the eligible students registered,’” Camarillo said. “That’s nothing to be happy about at all. That’s appalling.”
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