Midterm elections are a little over a month from now which means voter turnout is back in political organizers, pundits and the general public’s minds.
A recent study by Staker found that Texas had one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country in the 2018 midterm elections, despite an 18% increase from the previous election, the sixth-highest increase in the country. In spite of this increase, Texas still lagged behind other states, as the 2018 elections had the highest turnout of any midterm election since 1914, according to The Washington Post.
While the previous 2014 midterm election had the state ranked almost last in voter turnout with only 28.5%, the polarizing political landscape in 2018 intensified interest in voting for both the Republican and Democratic parties.
For the first time in over a decade, Democrats were optimistic about O’Rourke’s chances against Cruz over the senate seat which prompted them into fielding candidates in every Texas congressional district. Despite U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's narrow victory (only 2.6%) over O’Rourke, Democrats were able to flip Republican-held seats in the U.S. House and the Texas Legislature.
Michael McDonald, a professor at the Univesity of Florida who runs the US Elections Project told The Texas Tribune that a change in competition in the 2018 Texas elections made the difference. “Campaigns had a reason to be engaged, and money flowed to the competitive races, which funded ads and in turn mobilized voters. Everything feeds on itself when there’s a competitive election,” added McDonald.
Then how is it that Texas ended up among the 10 states with the lowest voter turnout for the same year? One of the reasons Staker cited that could explain this disparity is the rigidity of Texas voting laws.
According to a 2020 analysis by Northern Illinois University, Texas has the most restrictive voting process in the country. Texans have an in-person voter registration deadline 30 days before election day, the analysis found that the state has reduced the number of polling stations by more than 50% (2020 data estimates) and has the most restrictive pre-registration law in the U.S.
After a midterm primary turnout exceeding that of 2018, the increased voting interest trend appears to keep growing for this year’s elections. To put things in context, the midterm elections will decide which party controls Congress: 36 governorships and legislatures in 46 states will be decided. The Financial Times reported that the 2022 elections could be the most expensive ever, painting a picture of how much is at stake for both parties.