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One Group of Texas Voters Contradicts State's Low Turnout Rates

Callie Richmond/The Texas Tribune
In 2012, among voters 70 plus in Texas, turnout was more than 60 percent, according to Census Bureau data.

Texas has historically low rates of voter turnout. In the last gubernatorial election in 2010, less than a third of eligible voters cast a ballot.

That was the second lowest turnout in the nation that November, but one group of voters has proven pretty reliable – even in Texas.

In that group is 84-year-old Robert Tapscott. At a church in East Austin on Monday, as people were trickling in to hear candidates for City Councilspeak, he sat far in the back with a large wooden cane in his hand. He stepped aside to talk about the voting he’s done in his lifetime. He’s done a lot of voting.

"It’s one of the things that I possess by being an American," says Tapscott, who's been voting since he was 18 despite a massive obstacle in his path.

"I had to pay a poll tax," he says. "Good thing I wasn’t living in Mississippi at the time or I would’ve had to take a literary test."

Tapscott says he often votes on a candidate’s education plans. Other seniors we spoke to highlighted health care or social services as key issues. One thing is for sure – seniors vote in big numbers.

"Citizens 65 and older vote at a rate of 3 times that of 18 to 24 year olds and about 1.5 times the rate of overall electorate," says Curtis Gans, who directs of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate.

"People 65 and older are the only age demographic that has increased turnout over the last several years," Gans says. "The question in that figure is most of the increases are between 70 and older and that has to do with modern medicine which means those people can work when they previously couldn’t."

According to Pew Research Center, in the 2008 presidential election, John McCain got 53 percent of the vote from voters 65 and older. In 2012, the Republican presidential candidate took that vote again. Mitt Romney won 56 percent of the 65-plus vote.

Bob Jackson, the state director of AARP Texas, says one reason voters 65 and older vote consistently is they don’t move around much. [Click here for PDF version of AARP 2014 Voters' Guide.]

"Generationally they’re interested in issues and holding government accountable," Jackson says. "They want it to work and it’s important to them."

Jackson says seniors really care about their financial safety net.

"The other thing that is really important to older folks is to maintain their autonomy," Jackson says. "So any issue that’s related to independence and autonomy is extremely important. Healthcare, ability to stay in your own home, economics or health, guardianship, does it work not work, are people over reaching, they want to be independent and this generation is very independent."

According toCensus Bureau data – in 2012, roughly 25 percent of Texas voters 18 to 24 years old cast a ballot. But among voters 70 plus, turnout was more than 60 percent.

This November, all senior voters won’t vote for the same candidates, but we can expect to see a lot of them at the polls.

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