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With So Many Registered Voters, Why is Austin Turnout So Low?

Today is National Voter Registration Day, a push to get voters on the rolls before registration ends. (In Texas, that’s Oct. 9.)

According to a statement from the Travis County’s voter registrar, the county “enjoys the highest voter registration rate (78%) among urban counties in Texas.” That’s some 607,000 county residents. As part of National Voter Registration Day, officials want to swell that number to 650,000.

But will more registered voters actually lead to more votes and more engagement?

“There are about 460,000 registered voters here inside the city of Austin,” local political consultant Mark Littlefield tells KUT News. “We have about 79,000 likely voters in a City Council election. If it is a municipal election where there is no hot mayor’s race, you are looking at turnout of 30,000, about eight percent.”

The fact that Austin’s high registration rate doesn’t square with turnout has attracted notice. Daniel Llanes with the East Austin Voter Mobilization Initiative tells KUT News that registering voters isn’t the challenge as much as it is getting registered voters to the polls; his group has since offered simple solutions like finding rides and babysitters for those looking to vote.

KUT News, KLRU and the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life are raising awareness in Central Texas about low rates of civic participation and the impact on democracy. Join us Tuesday, October 2, 2012, for “Why Bother? Voices of a New Generation,”  a conversation with young Texans — those who are engaged and those who aren't — about the causes of low civic participation and how to boost it. You can RSVP for the event here.

Why are young Texans increasingly tuning out of the political process? Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #whybothertexas.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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