It’s never been easy to vote in Texas.
Conservative white officeholders in both parties historically suppressed the rights of Black and Mexican American voters, and the state’s current Republican leadership has joined other red state leaders to make it even harder to vote after the 2020 presidential election that saw President Donald Trump ousted from office by former Vice President Joe Biden — an outcome still not accepted by Trump and many Republican officeholders and voters.
There are only four states where voting is more restricted than Texas, according to the the 2022 edition of the Cost of Voting Index, a nonpartisan academic study released on Sept. 16. Texas ranks a lowly 46 among all states for ease of voting. Only Wisconsin, Arkansas, Mississippi and New Hampshire make it harder for citizens to register to vote and access ballots.
“The year 2021 was particularly noteworthy, with 19 states passing at least 33 new laws that made voting more difficult, while 25 states passed 62 laws, which reduced the cost of voting,” the survey’s authors note in their introduction.
Gov. Greg Abbott and legislative leaders overcame a quorum-breaking exodus by Democrat legislators last September to sign into law new state voting restrictions that prevented county election officials from innovating to increase voter turnout.
The Nov. 8 midterm election will be a test of the law’s impact on voter turnout, particularly its restrictions on voting by mail.
The national study measures 10 different election-related categories, including ease of registration, voting inconvenience and poll hours, voting by mail, absentee voting, length of early voting periods and number of voting sites.
Blue states rank higher in the survey for making it easier for citizens to vote on a number of fronts: allowing online registration or same-day registration and voting, universal voting by mail, and not imposing ID requirements that exceed those required by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA)
While pollsters track the underdog progress of Democratic candidates running for statewide office in Texas, which Republicans have held in lock since 1994, I wonder how many eligible voters in Bexar County will decide voting this year is too time-consuming or difficult and will not exercise their constitutional right.
On Nov. 6, 2018, the date of the last midterm election, slightly more than half of Bexar County’s 1.07 million registered voters turned out, compared to more than 63.5% of the 1.2 million voters registered for the 2020 presidential election. Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen recently predicted that 700,000 registered voters will cast votes in the coming election, a slight increase from 2018 in the fast-growing metro area.
Bexar County commissioners will be closely watching how many mail-in ballots are rejected this time after seeing a record 22% rejection rate in Bexar County for the March 1 primaries following the new Republican-imposed voting restrictions. Previous elections saw only 2% to 3% of mail-in ballots rejected.
The 2018 midterm election also was the last one in which voters were permitted to engage in straight-ticket voting. Legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Abbott outlawed the tradition starting with the 2020 election. Voters now have to “page through” a significant number of computer screens to vote in, or skip, individual down-ballot races.
Various surges in voter registration have been reported across Texas since the May 24 Uvalde mass shooting and the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision striking down Roe v. Wade. Those events have animated Democratic voters seeking tougher gun laws in Texas and protesting the state’s harsh anti-abortion laws that block the procedure even in the case of rape or incest.
Republicans, meanwhile, cite the record flow of migrants across the Mexico-Texas border as the issue motivating them to keep their candidates in statewide office as arrests of migrants this year topped 2 million for the first time last week.
The tightening race between Abbott and his Democratic challenger, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, should drive a strong turnout statewide, while the vacant Bexar County judge seat sought by Peter Sakai, a Democrat and former district judge, and Trish DeBerry, a Republican and former county commissioner, should boost turnout locally.
Show up and vote.