Unofficial turnout figures indicate 7.8M Texans voted and another 11M could have but didn’t. A state record 9.6M registered voters did not cast ballots, and an estimated 1.4M Texans are eligible to vote but are not registered to vote. This is the third general election where more than 10M voting-eligible Texans chose not to vote, joining 2014 (11.9M) and 2010 (10.5M).
The number of votes cast was around 300K less than in 2018, while the number of registered voters increased by 1.9M since that election.
Measured as the percent of registered voters casting a ballot for an official gubernatorial candidate, turnout was 45.7%. This is down more than 7 points from 2018 (53.0%) but is otherwise the highest percentage for a mid-term election since 1994 (50.9%).
Measured as the percent of voting-eligible population casting a ballot for an official gubernatorial candidate, turnout was 42.3%. This is the second highest such percentage for a mid-term election since 1982, the oldest year for which an academic estimate of the voting-eligible population is available. In 2018, 46.3% of the voting-eligible population voted.
Put another way, imagine a room with 100 voting-eligible Texans standing in it:
- 23 voted for Gov. Greg Abbott (R)
- 19 voted for Beto O’Rourke (D)
- 1 voted for someone else
- 7 weren’t registered to vote, and
- 50 didn’t vote.
Half the room was registered to vote but did not vote. And it’s not just this election they sat out.
More than 5M registered voters have not voted in any primary or general election in the last four election cycles, according to Republican strategist and data nerd Derek Ryan’s analysis of voter history. Of those, only about 300K had voted early for this year’s general election, leaving the remaining 4.8M still on the sidelines heading into Election Day.
According to the Secretary of State’s voter registration figures, a little over 1.8M of these 5M registered voters (36%) have suspense registrations. This usually means that the voter’s registration card was returned to the county voter registrar as undeliverable. Registered voters can hit the suspense list if they fail to respond to a notice seeking to confirm their address or if they get out of jury duty by saying they no longer reside in the county.
Suspense voters have the same right to vote as non-suspense voters, but they seldom do. In fact, if they are still on the suspense list on November 30 following the second general election since they landed on the list, then their registration is canceled the following January. In November 2020, there were 1.7M voters on the suspense list. In January 2021, the number dropped to 918K.
About one out of every five registered voters with no recent voting history registered after the November 2020 election, according to Ryan. We’ve now accounted for a little over half of registered voters with no recent voting history. The rest simply haven’t voted. If it’s because of dissatisfaction with the candidates, well, those were chosen in primary elections that have even lower turnout.
Let’s go back to that room with 100 voting-eligible Texans in it. If you asked for a show of hands of who voted in the primary, and they were being honest, you’d get this:
- 10 voted in the Republican primary, of which 7 voted for Abbott
- 6 voted in the Democratic primary, of which 5 voted for O’Rourke
- 10 weren’t registered to vote, and
- 74 didn’t vote.
One sixth of the room picked the candidates for everyone else.
For those races that went to a runoff, including several statewide races, well:
- 5 voted in the Republican runoff
- 3 voted in the Democratic runoff
- 9 weren’t registered to vote (Thank you to the one who registered after the primary); and
- 83 didn’t vote.
So that’s one out of every 12 people who picked runoff winners for everyone else. Three people out of the 100 voted for the Republican runoff winners, including Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton (R), and two out of the 100 voted for his eventual opponent, Rochelle Garza (D).
We’ve had to take a little liberty with rounding numbers here to keep the room at 100 people. For example, O’Rourke received 91% of the primary vote, but we can’t have a fractional person, so 5 out of 6 (83%) was the closest whole number we could choose. That said, this exercise demonstrates the non-voting nature of the electorate.
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