To everybody’s surprise – Republicans and Democrats alike – there has been a vast increase in Texas voters.
Texas has surpassed 17 million registered voters for the first time, keeping politicians on their toes for the upcoming 2022 elections.
The state has added nearly 2 million voters in the last four years and more than 2.5 million since eight years ago, despite a series of new election regulations from the Republican-led Legislature, as reported by The Houston Chronicle.
This means at least 1 of every 5 voters in Texas has never cast a ballot in the Lone Star State, a remarkable wildcard in a state that had stable politics. “That rapid turnover leads to a lot of uncertainty for candidates,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor.
From 2000 to 2014, Texas added only 1 million registered voters, the number of voters the state now adds every two years. This glacial pace in which Texas voters grew could be a direct consequence of the many hurdles the Lone Star State places for voter registration process volunteers.
Texans and non-Texas residents who want to volunteer must be trained and deputized by county election officials. Even after going through the Harris County one-hour course, volunteer registrars are only allowed to sign up voters in that county. To register in a neighboring county, they would have to request to be deputized there as well and go through the corresponding course.
To sign up any voter in the state, a volunteer registrar would need to be deputized in all 254 Texas counties every two years, according to The Houston Chronicle.
With the courses being just one of barriers Texas state has created, national groups started pulling out of the state. “We decided that there was no way that we could do voter registration work here without the risk of prosecution,” Michael Slater, president of Project Vote, told the Nation magazine in 2016, when being asked why the organization left Texas.
Deciding there was a need for change, in 2014, a group of campaign strategists from President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign launched an effort they called Battleground Texas to build an army of volunteer registrars, as reported by The Houston Chronicle.
“What we’re going to do is bring the fight to Texas and make it a battleground state so that anybody who wants to be our commander in chief has to fight for Texas,” the group’s co-founder, Jeremy Bird, said in a national interview with talk show host Stephen Colbert in 2013.
Since their arrival they have helped register 215,000 new voters, and have inspired other groups to join their efforts, many focusing on communities of color, such as Voto Latino, MOVE Texas and Jolt.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is considering running for governor, has his own group to register voters, Powered by People, and is himself trained to be a deputy voter registrar in 17 counties.
With the surge in voter registration, Texas politics has become more competitive and more unpredictable, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the Republicans lose this time. The Texas GOP has also tried to follow the Democrats lead with their own programs to boost registration.
According to The Houston Chronicle, the real question heading into 2022 is whether Democrats will close the gap even more than they did in 2018 – where O’Rourke only lost to Cruz by 2.6 percentage points in the U.S. Senate race – and 2020 statewide, or whether Republicans have done enough to counter Democrats with their own registration efforts.
This Saturday is the start of qualifying for the 2022 elections, where all Democratic and Republican candidates must pay a filing fee to appear on the ballot in the March 1 primary elections. Candidates have until Dec. 13 to file.