Not even the worst pandemic to hit Texas in a century was enough to stem the surge in voter registrations that has remade the state’s electorate over the past four years.
Just since March, Texas has added nearly 149,000 voters even as the political parties and voter registration groups face new obstacles in signing up people in a world of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
The state now has a record 16.4 million voters, 2.1 million more than it had just over four years ago — a 15-percent increase in registrations that is nearly equivalent to the voter rolls of the entire state of Connecticut.
“It is a totally different electorate than it was in 2016,” said Luke Warford, voter expansion director for the Texas Democratic Party.
Harris County and Bexar County have led the way in the last three months with voter registration efforts. In Harris County, voter rolls have grown by 16,000, while in Bexar they are up almost 14,000. Combined, the two counties account for one-fifth of the increase in registrations statewide.
Texas voter registration rolls historically have grown very slowly. From 2002 to 2012, the rolls grew by 800,000. But now, registration is in hyperdrive. Just since November of 2018, Texas has added almost 600,000 voters.
Some of the change is coming from transplants moving from other states, while many others are coming from minority communities that voter registration advocacy groups have targeted over the last four years.
In short, Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor, said 2020 is setting up as a real shootout in regions of the state that have become more competitive because of the diversification and growth of the electorate.
“It’s another step toward Texas being a true battleground,” Rottinghaus said.
In Texas voters don’t register by party affiliation like many other states, making it unclear exactly how many Republican or Democratic voters are in the state.
But about one-third of the 1.3 million new voters since November 2018 come from three counties: Harris, Travis and Bexar — all deeply blue since 2016.
Harris and Bexar being at the top of the list doesn’t surprise Antonio Arellano, who is the leader of Jolt, a voter advocacy group focused on registering young Latino voters and getting them involved in politics. He said his group has been on the ground in those two counties.
While the coronavirus made registration drives impossible in traditional locations such as libraries, county fairs and large events, younger voters can still be found with direct messages on social media, text messages, and digital ads. The virus hasn’t affected those efforts at all.
“We harness culture, art and technology to get it done,” Arellano said.
Each year in Texas, 200,000 Latinos turn 18 — a population that is Jolt’s main focus.
Nice. The March voter registration figures are here, the January figures are here, and the November of 2018 figures are here. Harris County is right at 2.4 million, and I think we have a shot at getting to 2.5 million for November. As the story notes, average monthly voter registration figures are actually up since April, about double what it had been from November of 2018 through March. People have been working it, with Jolt, Battleground Texas, and Beto’s Powered by People all doing a lot of heavy lifting. You want to make a difference, get trained as a volunteer deputy voter registrar – the Harris County Tax Assessor has online ZOOM training sessions to become a VDVR – and join up with one of these groups. Every new voter matters.
I actually drafted this about a month ago, just before the primary runoffs, then as is sometimes the case kept putting off publishing it. Because I procrastinated, you can now see the state and county-by-county voter registration figures by looking at the contest details for the Senate runoff. But this post is even more of a delayed special than that. In the Before Times, I had drafted a story about where a lot of voter registrations were coming from – short answer, the I-35 corridor from San Antonio to D/FW – but between the primary and the world falling apart, I never got around to publishing it. I’m repurposing it for this post, so read on for what I had written a couple of months ago.
Over the last four years, Texas has added more voters in the 22 counties along Interstate 35 than in the state’s 232 other counties combined.
Since 2016, Texas voter rolls have grown by almost 2 million voters. More than 1 million of those voters live in communities along the I-35 corridor, sometimes likened to a “blue spine.”
That slice of Texas geography — extending northeast from the border through San Antonio and Austin and all the way to Dallas — has become steadily less conservative and more Democratic. It has helped make Democratic candidates more competitive in statewide contests over the last two election cycles.
The biggest surge of new voters, reflected in fresh registration totals from the state Division of Elections, has come in two counties on either end of Austin.
Williamson County, just north of Austin, has seen a 26 percent increase in registered voters.
Just south of Austin, Hays County experienced a 31 percent increase.
After Williamson and Hays, the biggest gains in registration were in Comal, Brazos and Travis counties. All saw increases of more than 23 percent since 2016.
In 82 counties, mostly in the Panhandle, West Texas and East Texas, registered voter rolls have grown 2 percent or less. In 55 of those counties, the numbers have declined — by a total of more than 7,000 voters.
In Bexar County, the number of registered voters increased 18 percent, making it the 26th fastest-growing county for voter registration. Harris County — the state’s biggest county — saw a 16 percent increase.
The 22 counties along I-35 are a big reason Democrats had one of their best election cycles in 2018.
We’ve talked about this a lot, and we know that voter registration is a key part of the Democrats’s 2020 strategy. Yes, Republicans are trying this now as well – as I’ve said before, I bet they wish they’d have made it a bit easier on themselves, now that this is a thing they want to do – but it sure seems like the Dems have a much bigger field to harvest. And with the exception of Comal, which is to Bexar as Montgomery is to Harris, though I hold out hope for them both, the growth has come in the places you really want to see it happen for Dems, while the heavily Republican rural areas shrink. Is it enough for 2020 – more to the point, is it enough to overcome the large historical advantage Republicans have had? I want to say Yes, but there sure is a lot of ground still to cover. There’s no question, this is the way to get there. It’s just a matter of the speed. Texas Monthly has more.