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Did Texans Ever Vote in Large Numbers? Answering the Leftover Questions from TXDecides

Last week we launched TXDecides, our collaborative project with public radio newsrooms across the state. The goal was simple: Answer Texas voters' questions ahead of Election Day. Y'all had lots of questions. So many, in fact, that we had to pare down the questions to a scant five.

Luckily, we culled some of the remaining questions and decided to answer them as best we could. 

Was there ever a time when Texas voted in large numbers? If so, what changed?

Since 1972, Texas has had a lower voter turnout rate than the national rate for presidential elections.

In more recent elections, about 60 percent of the voting age population votes during presidential election years, and about 40 percent votes during midterm elections, according to advocacy organization FairVote.

In Texas, these numbers are substantially lower than the national rate— around 40 percent for presidential election years and 30 percent for midterm years.

Prior to the turn of the 20th century, well over half of the voting age population in the state consistently turned out to vote in general elections in presidential election years. The highest voter turnout for a presidential year general election in Texas was in 1896, when 79.2 percent of eligible voters came out to vote. This was almost on par with the national voter turnout rate, which was 79.6 percent that year.

When the state introduced a poll tax in 1900, turnout in general elections fell dramatically—from 57.4 percent in 1900 to 33.3 percent in 1904. For comparison, voter turnout nationally in 1904 was 65.5 percent.

In the following decades, voter turnout in Texas hovered between 20 percent at its lowest in 1920 (the year the 19th Amendment was passed, giving women the right to vote), and 42.4 percent in 1964.

The Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 – in addition to a statewide referendum ending Texas’ poll tax in 1966 – caused voter turnout to increase to 44.9 percent in 1968.

However, nationally, turnout was 62.5 percent that year.

The highest voter turnout in the 20th century in Texas was for the 1992 election – 47.6 percent of voting age Texans turned out to vote in the election between President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton.

The national turnout rate for the 1992 election was 58.1 percent.

Since 2000, turnout of voting age people in Texas has remained relatively steady, hovering between 43.7 percent in 2012 and 46.1 percent in 2004, while the national rate has hovered between 54.2 percent in 2000 and 61.6 percent in 2008.

(Texas voter turnout rate data from; National voter turnout rate data from

Can you tell us more about Hispanic voters in Texas: Percentage registered to vote? Percentage that vote?

Roughly a quarter of Texas’ eligible voters are Hispanic, making Texas the state with the second largest bloc of eligible Hispanic voters in the nation. New Mexico has the largest share, at 40 percent, according to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center.

A 2014 analysis from the polling firm Latino Decisions found that 39 percent of eligible Latino voters in Texas cast a ballot in 2012, around 3 million voters, according to the study. Nationally, 48 percent of the eligible Hispanic voting population turned out to the polls in that same election.

This election, Texas has a record number of voters registered, 15 million, an increase of 1.7 million voters compared to 2012. Texas Monthly reports voters with Hispanic surnames account for 30 percent of that increase – the Texas Secretary of State doesn’t explicitly release voter information based on ethnicity.

How can each Texan get a ballot during early voting that shows all down ballot races in that particular district to make informed choices?

If you are registered to vote in Travis County, you can generate a customized ballot ahead of Election Day on the Travis County Clerk’s website. If you are registered to vote in Williamson County, you can use this site to do so. If you are registered to vote in Bastrop County, you can use this siteto do so, as well. No such resource exists for voters in Hays County, but you can check out the elections page on the Hays County website for information about the races in each district, or call the Hays County Elections Administration at (512) 393-7310 to find out who will be on your ballot.

If the presidential election ends in a tie, how does the state's Electoral College votes get divvied out?

If either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton fails to receive a majority of the total 538 Electoral College votes, the House of Representatives is in charge of breaking the tie and choosing a president. This scenario would result from one of two possible scenarios: either both candidates receive 269 Electoral College votes, or a third-party candidate wins a state, leaving neither Clinton or Trump with a majority of Electoral College votes. Something akin to the latter case happened in the election of 1824, in which Andrew Jackson lost to John Quincy Adams in a four-way split, even though Jackson had received the majority of the popular vote. When no candidate wins 270 Electoral College votes and the election is thrown to the House, each state delegation receives one vote. The overwhelming majority of Texas’s delegates to the House of Representatives are Republicans, and while it would actually be the new Congress sworn in in January 2017 who would vote, it is all but guaranteed that they would go Republican. For an in-depth look at how an Electoral College tie would play out in 2016, see this article in Time.

Is it possible to optionally vote by paper or is it mandated that everyone use the electronic voting system?

The short answer is no, you will not have the option to use a paper ballot in the November elections in Texas, unless you are requesting a mail-in ballot in Travis, Hays or Williamson County.

Travis, Hays, Caldwell and Williamson all use electronic voting systems. Bastrop, on the other hand, uses the AutoMark system, in which voters fill out paper ballots that are then counted electronically.

You can see which voting system will be used in your county, as well as give it a virtual trial run, here.

All mail-in ballots are paper ballots but are counted electronically. You may request a mail-in ballot if you are over 65, disabled, will be out of the county during both the early and regular voting periods, or are in jail but have not yet been convicted. The statewide deadline for mail-in ballots was last Friday.

Kate Groetzinger is a part-time reporter at KUT. She comes to us from Quartz, a digital media publication based in New York City, where she served as an Atlantic Media fellow. Prior to working at Quartz, Kate graduated from Brown University with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Brown, Kate served as an intern at Texas Monthly. Her work has been published online by Texas Monthly, CultureMap Austin, The Atlantic, Quartz, The Gotham Gazette and Paste Magazine, and in print by Rhode Island Monthly. She is happy to be back in her home state reporting on news for her fellow Texans.
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