Texas has long been a strongly Republican state. Although every recent election has brought predictions that the changing demographics of the state will turn it Democratic, those tantalizing promises have invariably fallen short when it comes to actual elections. Part of the reason may be that the change in demographics is largely due to the increase in Hispanic voters and they are not as strongly Democratic as (say) African American voters. There are various explanations given for this, the main one being that the Hispanic community is socially quite conservative and Catholic, and Republican stances of opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights may resonate more strongly with them, even to the extent to overcoming the racism that underlies many Republican policies and the explicit racism of Trump.
So even though there is the usual pre-election excited chatter that Texas may finally vote Democratic, I am not expecting it. This may be yet another case of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute. But there could be significant shifts towards Democrats in down ballot races, a trend that we saw in previous elections, especially in the 2018 mid-term elections.
Another encouraging sign is that although the Republican-controlled state government has pulled out all the stops to place obstacles to voting (remember that a key Republican election strategy is to suppress and discourage voting as much as possible, especially for poor and minoriry areas), this year has seen an enormous increase in early voting in Texas.
In a tidal wave of political engagement, more than 7 million Texans have already cast a ballot during the general election, the vast majority in-person. The numbers are propelling what is historically one of the lowest voter turnout states to the top of the nation’s leaderboard in terms of the sheer number of people who have voted thus far. That groundswell of participation is even more striking in context, as democratic hurdles remain ever-present at the polls while fears of Covid-19 also loom large.
“What we’re seeing is that Texans will crawl through broken glass to be able to make sure their voices are heard this election,” said Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic party.
In the midst of the early voting period, extended by Governor Greg Abbott amid the coronavirus pandemic, approximately 43% of registered voters statewide had voted as of Sunday, logging more than 80% of the total turnout from four years ago with over a week left in the election.
“It is really quite something that people are turning out in the numbers that they are. And that they’re standing in line for hours when this is early voting, this is not Election Day, and many Texans have never done that before because it is such a low voter turnout state,” said Brittany Perry, an instructional associate professor in political science at Texas A&M University.
In Harris and El Paso counties, more than two-fifths and roughly a third of registered voters respectively had cast ballots by Sunday, despite sometimes encountering three-hour-long waits, according to Election Protection. Broken machines thwarted residents in Travis and Fort Bend counties on the first day of early voting, yet both have already experienced turnout around 50% of registered voters as of last weekend. And, while there have been curbside voting issues in Bexar and Hidalgo counties, that hasn’t stopped more than 600,000 people from participating in the electoral process, long before 3 November.
As I said, this does not portend that Biden will win Texas. The last time Texas voted for a Democrat for president was in 1976. Polls still indicate the Trump will win that state. But this level of commitment to vote is still a good sign, that overt voter suppression efforts will only get you so far and may even backfire by making people even more determined to vote.