Voter turnout in Texas has fallen again this year. Experts are not surprised

Texans continued the trend of showing lukewarm interest in elections as fewer than 50% of voters turned out in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Nationwide voter turnout was just over 45% as approximately 8,032,438 people cast their ballots in person or by mail. That’s 17,672,143 registered voters, according to data from the Texas Secretary of State’s office Thursday afternoon.

In the state’s largest counties, turnout in Tuesday’s elections was well below 50%, down from the 2018 midterm election.

In Harris County, approximately 1,100,970 voters voted for a turnout of nearly 43%. That’s down from the previous midterm elections in 2018, when about 1,219,210 people voted for a 52% turnout. But the drop in turnout is even greater when you consider that Harris County slated more than 211,000 voters between those elections.

Approximately 625,895 Dallas County voters cast their ballots in this election, representing a turnout of 44%. In Dallas County, about 729,750 people voted in the 2018 midterm election — a turnout of 57%. In the four intervening years, Dallas County added more than 135,470 voters.

In Tarrant County, turnout was nearly 47%, with nearly 592,000 voters casting their ballot. Compare that to the 2018 midterm elections, when about 631,840 people voted for a 57% turnout. In the four intervening years, Tarrant County added about 159,100 voters.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor in the political science department at the University of Houston, said he wasn’t surprised by this year’s turnout because midterm elections don’t have as many draws as presidential elections.

“It’s usually difficult to get Texans to vote in midterm elections. We saw a sizeable spike in 2018 and then a big spike in 2020, but it looks like the 2018 and 2020 numbers are basically a mismatch,” he told KERA. “[Texans are] not so attentive to nationwide problems. They definitely won’t believe their voice counts. So it’s harder to get them to vote.”

The sluggish returns came despite high-profile races on the ballot, including races for Texas governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The results were as easy to predict as turnout: Texas Republicans won the top election and the state offices of Comptroller and Land Commissioner, while maintaining comfortable majorities in the Texas House of Representatives and Senate.

Rottinghaus said that’s partly because Democrats are again unable to motivate their base in the areas where they have the most voters.

“They didn’t get the kind of numbers they needed in big urban counties, and they haven’t been able to get enough penetration in some of the rural areas to even out the Republicans,” he said.

Even in El Paso County, home of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, turnout hasn’t been as high as it was four years ago. About 166,600 ballots were cast there, which corresponds to a turnout of about 33%. That’s a significant drop from 2018, when about 206,000 out of 450,000 registered voters turned out in the polls, for a turnout of 46%. (O’Rourke was also on the ballot in 2018 when he lost a U.S. Senate race to incumbent Republican Ted Cruz.) Since 2018, El Paso has added 56,500 registered voters.

About 541,350 voters cast their ballots in Bexar County, representing a turnout of nearly 44%. That’s down from 2018, when about 551,000 people voted for a 51% turnout. In the four intervening years, voter registration grew by more than 157,000.

Travis County had an impressive 63% turnout in 2018, when about 486,550 voters out of 774,300 cast a ballot, up from about 461,000 voters this year. And that’s despite Travis County gaining more than 112,000 voters in those four years.

Brian W. Smith, who teaches political science and is associate dean of the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences at St. Edward’s University in Austin, said this year’s election isn’t as much a referendum on the Biden presidency as 2018 was on ex-president donald trump

“Secure, [Biden] was one of the things that helped shape people’s voices. But he wasn’t the deciding factor. There were so many other issues for people to vote on, so it wasn’t an election where people expressed displeasure or support for the incumbent president,” he told KUT.

Rottinghaus said the more stay-at-home voters, no matter what party they belong to, the more their voices go unheard.

“The turnout in this election was miserable. It was way too low. And so voters need to understand that if they don’t participate in the process, their ability to control what happens in Austin is limited,” he said. “That needs to change, not just in one age group or demographic, but across the board. Those numbers need to be much larger so Texas can have more influence over what its state government does.”

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Do you have a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at [email protected].You can follow Julian on Twitter @nachoaguilar

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