AUSTIN — Texas leads the nation in many ways when it comes to voting, coming in second in the country for both numbers of registered voters and the eligible voting population.
But that doesn’t correspond with voter turnout, where Texas was ranked the 46th hardest state in the nation to vote in a recent “cost-of-voting index” compiled by political scientists at Northern Illinois University. In this past election, 9.6 million registered voters in Texas – more than the entire population of states like New Jersey or Virginia – did not exercise their rights to vote.
The reasons stem from the chronic underfunding of the state’s election system and the waves of voter suppression laws in recent years that erected unnecessary barriers to voting, a new report on election protection efforts in 2022 from Common Cause Texas found. The report’s release comes as attempts to curtail some voters’ access continue, with a bill just introduced in the Texas Legislature seeking to ban polling places on college campuses, making it even more difficult for young Texas voters to participate in elections.
“Texas got it right when we wrote into our Article 2 of our State Constitution that ‘all political power is inherent in the people,’” said Katya Ehresman, Common Cause Texas’ voting rights manager. “But it’s time to remind our Texas legislators of that fact, so they can dismantle the existing discriminatory barriers currently inhibiting voter turnout and return power to the people of this great state.”
Common Cause Texas worked with partners in the Texas Election Protection Coalition running the 866-OUR-VOTE nonpartisan hotline in 2022. An analysis of the 5,700-plus calls that came over the year included:
- Paper shortages at more than 20 Harris County polling locations on Election Day causing delayed openings
- Additional opening delays at 67 polling locations across 12 counties
- Curbside voting issues at polling locations in 10 counties
- Intimidation towards voters reported in nearly 80 counties,
- Long waits on college campus polling stations in 23 counties, and poor signage or adequate parking at 15 different campuses.
Most concerning, voters of color disproportionately faced problems when voting this year. In instances where callers to the hotline self-identified their race or ethnicity, more than half identified as voters of color, the majority being Black or Hispanic Texans.
“Our democracy only works when we all can participate and determine our collective future,” Ehresman said. “That’s not happening in our state right now. Suppressive obstacles like unnecessary vote-by-mail processes and poorly funded voter education efforts are getting in the way of people’s ability to vote.
“A state as big as Texas should not be ranking 41st in turnout. It should not be a partisan issue to believe that every eligible voter’s voice should be heard,” she said.
As detailed in our report, there are a number of badly needed policy changes that would prevent so many of the problems identified from occurring again. We look forward to working with lawmakers to adopt fixes such as:
- More investment in election administration. Texas’s annual budget of $4.5 million for voter education efforts works out to just $0.21 per eligible voter in the state and is woefully inadequate. Texas has the fastest growing population in the nation, our funding line for voter education should not be stagnant, and decreasing for every eligible voter and our state grows
- Strengthened vote-by-mail system. Changes in 2022 to mail voting led to widespread voter confusion and mistakes, with tens of thousands of ballots being rejected during the primaries. More investments are needed at the county level for outreach to voters to fix flagged ballots, while the state should give voters 14 days, as opposed to the current six-day window, to fix incomplete or incorrect mail-in ballots. The new mail-in ballot tracker maintained by the state is cumbersome and confusing and in dire need of improvements, including more expeditious alerts about ballot rejections and more frequent updates on ballot status.
- Improved access for voters with disabilities. Texas polling places are required to be accessible to voters of all abilities, but Common Cause Texas and partners received reports of ineffective curbside voting signage or administration, as well as polling place access issues. To reach compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the existing Texas Election Code, we must improve accessibility to all polling locations.
- Automatic and online voter registration system. Would-be voters are unable to register to vote online in Texas, an option offered in the majority of other states. An online option would not only remove one of the most significant barriers to voting in our state, but also save public resources with an estimated savings of over $738,211 in Texas if recently registered voters didn’t accrue counties the cost per form. Automatic voter registration when new residents receive driver licenses, for example, would also improve turnout.
Common Cause’s 2022 Post-Election Report is available here.
Reporters can email firstname.lastname@example.org with additional questions, or to arrange interviews with Katya Ehresman of Common Cause Texas.