A wave of renewed civic engagement and democratic participation swept across the country during the 2018 midterm election, and Texas was no exception. The two years leading up to this election were a frenzy of activism, media coverage, political advertising, and social media activity. Voter registration surged to 79 percent of the citizen voting age population, the highest percentage in Texas since the 2004 presidential election. Of those registered in Texas, 53 percent turned out to vote (up 20 percent from the 2014 midterms and the highest in a Texas midterm election since 1970). Texas had the sixth largest turnout increase in the nation, outpacing the nationwide average turnout increase of 13 percentage points.
Although Texas’ overall turnout rate was still the eleventh lowest in the nation, these numbers mark a significant improvement from the recent past that we can all celebrate, regardless of party membership or ideology. Texans are energized and eager to participate in our democracy.
Nevertheless, the mechanisms of our democracy failed us. The 2018 Texas midterm election was characterized by re-energized civic engagement without the infrastructure to meet it. In fact, our data indicates that election administration failures reported to our Coalition affected, at a minimum, 277,628 voters —a number higher than the margin of victory in Texas’ closely watched Senate race.
The long-standing failures in Texas election administration infrastructure will grow more dire unless state and local governments address the problems as soon as possible. Texas’ election systems cannot handle even the previous baseline of voter turnout, much less the substantial increase we saw in 2018 and will likely see in 2020. Even with the advance notice provided by increased voter registration and higher voter turnout elsewhere in the country, Texas failed to establish the infrastructure necessary to conduct an efficient, fair, and pro-voter election in which voting is easy and reliable for every citizen who wants to cast a ballot.
Texas Civil Rights Project’s Election Protection hotline received thousands of calls detailing issues faced by the record-breaking number of Texans who turned out to make their voices heard in the 2018 Midterm Election. Problems reported to our team included late poll openings, long lines at polling places, polling place problems on college campuses, early registration deadlines, noncompliance with the National Voter Registration Act, provisional ballot problems, voter intimidation, and voting machine malfunctions. One clear example is at least 753 voters were disenfranchised because Texas refuses to comply with the National Voter Registration Act.
In addition to detailing the concrete problems that voters faced, we also set out a blueprint for urgent reforms that policymakers at the local, state, federal can take to ensure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot that counts. Three commonsense solutions that would go a long way towards addressing problems highlighted in our report include online voter registration, mandatory countywide polling places, and improved poll worker recruitment, training, and compensation
Let’s be clear, even one voter who is disenfranchised by our state’s failure to modernize our election is one too many. There is no cost we shouldn’t pay to ensure that every eligible voter can participate in our democracy. There is an urgent need for Texas to reform its antiquated election infrastructure immediately. Texas is not ready for its next election. Without reform, our state faces the risk of a catastrophic breakdown in future elections, perhaps as soon as 2020.
To access the full report, please visit texascivilrightsproject.org.