Did you vote for a president in the last election back in November?
Maybe not, because in the Lone Star State that is hard to do. How do we get more of us to vote? As usual I have a solution, but first, not to get bogged down in figures, on our last Election Day there were 29.8 million Texans. (I’m rounding these numbers, obviously.)
Of these, 21.6 million were of voting age, and almost 17 million were registered voters, or 78 percent. But millions of these eligible voters stayed home, or couldn’t find their county’s single ballot box. Maybe they refused to get vaccinated for Covid-19 and were in an ICU or it could be they just didn’t care. The state’s turnout was only 11.3 million. So two thirds of registered voters voted, but only a little more than half (52.39 percent) of those who were of voting age actually cast a ballot.
Texas’s voter turnout has always been dismal. In 2016, for example, only Hawaii (42 percent) and West Virginia (50 percent) fared worse. In Florida, which has 4 million fewer voting age people than Texas, 1-million more Floridians voted than Texans. We came in at 43 percent, second lowest in the nation. In 2018, 45.6 percent of Texas’ population of eligible voters cast a ballot, compared with a national average of 49.4 percent. One reason for our poor turnout is certainly the many deliberate obstacles we face in trying to cast a ballot.
In a study compiled by political scientists at Northern Illinois University, Jacksonville University and Wuhan University in China, it’s harder to vote in Texas than in any of the other 49 states. Now, of course, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Legislature are making it even harder by abolishing 24-hour voting, cutting down on mail-in ballots and don’t forget the aforementioned one ballot box per county.
Back to the 2020 presidential election. Donald Trump won Texas with 52.1 percent of the vote, down from 53 percent four years earlier. Joe Biden got 46.5 percent, but those 5,259,126 Texans who voted for Joe might has well have stayed home because Texas has a winner-take-all policy in the Electoral College, so all our 38 votes went to Trump. Biden won in all our major cities – Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso and Austin.
Oddly enough, there is a geographical pattern to which Texans vote. The major counties in Texas with the highest voter turnout percentages in last year’s presidential election were Williamson north of Austin, Collin next to Dallas and Houston’s neighbor Fort Bend, all with about 75 percent turnout.
Notice that all are suburbs of our big cities. The counties with the lowest percentages include El Paso, Cameron and Webb, at about 50 percent. All of them are along the Rio. Loving County, out in far West Texas, has the smallest population of any county in the nation, 64 people. It went for Trump 60 (90.9 percent) to four votes for Biden (6.1 percent). Apparently everyone living in Loving County is an eligible voter and the county had a 100 percent turnout. Or possibly they used the LBJ School of Accounting.
Now we must look at our party primaries, which can be one-sided. In the Texas 2020 GOP primary Trump won 94.11 percent of the vote. In Texas statewide elections, whoever wins the Republican Party’s primary wins the election. So a small number of voters actually decides who wins in the general election.
According to Political Charge, the problem with voter turnout is even worse in Texas’ local elections than in presidential races. In 2015, only 6 percent of eligible voters participated in the mayoral races for Dallas and Fort Worth. Turnout in Austin was 13 percent, Houston, 18 percent and San Antonio 11 percent. For comparison, 59 percent of eligible voters participated in Portland’s mayoral election. That is probably because Oregon has all mail-in voting and automatic registration when you get a driver’s license or state ID. In Texas, to vote you must bring along your DNA sample, photo of your parents and proof that you are a Republican.
So how do we get more Texas voters to the polls? We could start by doing what some other states do. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington allow all elections to be conducted by mail. Three states -- California, Nebraska and North Dakota -- allow counties to conduct elections by mail. What?
Local governments get to decide anything to make voting easier? Harris County tried it, but those measures were abolished by the Lege. Hey, Texas legislators, I thought the Pony Express was bad enough. Stop making us use carrier pigeons.
OK, this might not be enough to bring in more voters, so we turn to the current participation program for vaccinations. Yes, we copy the get-vaxed bait. You want $100 in cash? Pick up a crisp bill after you cast your ballot. The more you vote, the more bills to stuff in your wallet or purse. How about two tickets to a Houston Texan game? If you don’t vote, you get four tickets to a Houston Texan game and start at quarterback. Need advice on how to vote? Dr. Anthony Fauci will be there to help.
Perhaps the carrot won’t work, so we offer the stick. You must show your stamped ballot to get into a theater. Did I mention the offer of two front row tickets to “Hamilton”? Unless you show that you have voted, no entry into restaurants, bars and the six-vote-or-more line at H-E-B. College students, that debt-forgiveness form you filled out needs an attached note from your precinct worker showing you voted. Every survey shows Trump voters are most likely not to get vaccinated. Democrats should push for a law requiring a vax card to vote.
Finally, of all the universities on Earth, why did Wuhan University participate in a study on voting in Texas? I haven’t felt well since Election Day.
Ashby votes at email@example.com