Even with a record number of registered voters, non-participation is still trending in Texas.
Secretary of State Carlos Cascos announced that a record 15,015,700 Texans are registered to vote for the general election. The final total is expected to increase slightly as counties finish processing applications filed just before the October 11 deadline. More than 750K Texans have registered to vote since the March primary, and nearly 1.4M Texans have registered to vote since the 2012 general election.
Cascos said the state’s estimated voting-age population is 19.3M, so seven out of every nine voting-age Texans (78%) are registered to vote. However, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the voting-age population is closer to 19.8M, which would mean that just over 75% of the voting-age population has registered to vote. The Texas Demographic Center’s estimate is over 20M using a migration rate that is half of what the state experienced from 2000 to 2010.
If we use either of those estimates, then voter registrations have at best kept pace with population growth and possibly lagged behind it.
Texas Voter Participation in Presidential Elections Since 1972
More than 85% of voting-age Texans were registered to vote for the 2000 general election, and that percentage declined for each of the next four successive presidential elections. If we used the Census Bureau’s estimate, then about 1% more voting-age Texans are registered to vote this year than in 2012. If we used the migration-rate estimate, then the voter registration percentage has declined for the fifth consecutive presidential election.
Turnout rates lag significantly behind registration rates. Less than half of voting-age Texans have cast ballots in every presidential election since at least 1972. Texas ranks either 49th or 50th among the states in turnout, measured as the percent of the voting-age population casting ballots, for each general election since 2000 (presidential or gubernatorial). In 2012, for the first time ever, more than 10 million voting-age Texans did not vote.
In 2008, a record 8.1 million Texans cast a ballot for president. The number of voters fell a little over 1% in 2012. Turnout, measured as the number of people casting ballots, has never fallen in consecutive presidential elections in state history. If slightly more than two out of every five voting-age Texans were to cast a ballot in November, then Texas would set a record for most votes cast in a presidential election. However, if only that many voted, then Texas would also set a record for most non-voters in a presidential election.
The voting-age population includes people who are ineligible to vote, such as non-citizens and convicted felons who have not regained their eligibility. Even after accounting for the estimated population of non-eligible adults, Texas’s turnout still ranked 48th, 47th and 47th during the last three presidential elections, according to the Univ. of Florida’s United States Election Project.
Voter registration, measured as a percent of the estimated voting-eligible population, has fallen since a 2004 high of 95% to around 87% in 2016. On the bright side, this percentage is about 2% higher than in 2012, when less than 85% of the estimated voting-eligible population was registered.
An estimated 2.3 million Texans who would be otherwise eligible to vote are not registered voters and cannot participate in the November election. This is a slightly lower number than in 2012 but more than triple the number who were not registered in 2000.
Turnout drops considerably in gubernatorial election years. Despite high-profile efforts to boost voter registrations and turnout, Texas remains a mostly non-voting state.