A little less than three weeks before early voting is due to begin, Texans are already making election year history, setting new records for voter registration. Many of those who register apparently believe the stakes are very high for the November election.
Jeremy Wallace covers politics for the Houston Chronicle. He told Texas Standard the state has a bit over 16.6 million registered voters, with 1.5 million added since the 2016 presidential election.
“Even since the pandemic hit, we’ve added 400,000,” Wallace said.
Of the new voters registered, one-third come from Harris County, Bexar County and Travis County, all home to large cities that tend to vote for Democratic candidates. There have also been higher-than-usual increases in the number of voters registered in suburban counties like Hays and Williamson near Austin, and Montgomery County in southeast Texas. Republicans hope those voters will be more likely to support their candidates.
Wallace said predicting an election outcome based on newly registered voters is difficult, because they tend to vote at lower rates than other registered voters.
“If you registered somebody back in the summer, trying to keep them engaged and get them out to vote is one of the hardest things that campaigns have to do,” Wallace said.
The experience of 2018 might indicate an update to the conventional wisdom is needed. Wallace said vigorous voter registration drives by Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign were followed by “shocking” levels of turnout in the November election, particularly in suburban Hays County.
“2018 tells us that people were far more motivated,” Wallace said. “And in the political atmosphere we’re in right now, newly registered voters – maybe for both Democrats and Republicans – are more fired up than ever.”
The pandemic is likely to affect how and when people vote, and perhaps whether they do. Wallace suspects that the first and last days of early voting, along with Election Day itself, will be busy at the polls.
“That first day of early voting, I can guarantee you, whoever you are, you’re going to be in line,” Wallace said.