Despite a larger population and a contested race for an open gubernatorial seat, turnout in the state of Texas was reportedly down this year, as compared to the last mid-term election in 2010, by more than a quarter of a million votes.
That data point --- a decrease of some 271,000 total voters this year --- is one of several, at least anecdotal early indicators that suggest the Texas GOP's strategy of suppressing the vote this year with polling place Photo ID restrictions seems to have worked.
Since 2003, Texas law had already required every voter to present an ID when voting at the polls in the Lone Star State. But the newer draconian restrictions that have been so controversial were finally in place for a federal general election for the first time this year, after state Republicans have been attempting to enact them since at least 2007.
We've spent quite a bit of time over the past year(s) reporting on the GOP attempt to implement these new polling place Photo ID voting restrictions, with all evidence suggesting that they are meant only to suppress the votes of minorities, students, the poor and other disproportionately Democratic-leaning constituencies.
In virtually every instance that the new, exceedingly restrictive law has come before federal authorities, it has been found plainly discriminatory. The law was struck down in 2012 as a discriminatory violation of the Voting Rights Act by both the U.S. Department of Justice as well as a three-judge federal panel on the D.C. District Court. It was struck down once again this year by a U.S. District Court in Texas after a full trial and a 147-page ruling [PDF] which found the law to be "purposefully discriminatory", an "unconstitutional poll tax", and likely to disenfranchise some 600,000 legally registered Texas voters as well as more than a million eligible voters.
Nonetheless, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to stay in place during this year's election, as the Republicans who run the state of Texas appeal the lower court's unambiguous ruling.
In the meantime, early data coming in from Texas suggests the law appears to have had its intended effect.
It was reported on the day after the election last week that the number of provisional ballots cast in Texas had doubled, as compared to the last mid-term elections in 2010.
Since voters lacking one of the few, very specific types of state-issued Photo IDs required to vote under the new law would only have been able to cast a provisional ballot at the polls on Election Day (which will not be counted unless the voter can return to county election headquarters with approved Photo ID within 6 days after the election), it makes sense that provisional ballots would increase under the new voting restriction.
It could be argued that increased turnout this year over 2010 would also lead to an increase in provisional ballots. However, the turnout in Texas was down this year, not up.
In another indication that the law is "working" for Republicans, despite the vigorously contested gubernatorial race between Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott (who also led the legal battle for the new voting restrictions) and Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis this year, voter turnout was way down in Texas as compared to the 2010 election. According to the Texas Tribune's Ross Ramsey in the New York Times over the weekend, turnout fell by 271,000 voters this year, compared to 2010, despite several factors that might otherwise have suggested it should have gone up this year...
Texas turnout, already the worst in the country, dropped. The state’s population is larger than it was in 2010. More than 14 million Texans registered to vote, according to the secretary of state --- up from 13.3 million in 2010. Turnout that year was 37.5 percent. Turnout this year (the numbers are unofficial) was 33.6 percent.The people who did not show up appear to be Democrats. The Republican numbers were up in the governor’s race, while the Democratic numbers were way down.
It will take some time to determine exactly what did and didn't happen in this year's elections, and certainly how the new voting restriction effected voters, but early indications are similar to the findings reported by the non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) after similar voting restrictions were implemented by Republicans in Kansas and Tennessee. In those states, the GAO found, the voting restrictions had the effect of lowering turnout most markedly for both minority and young voters.
How much turnout was lowered in Texas due to the new restrictions remain to be seen. As the Texas Tribune's Ramsey also notes in the Times, since Abbott appears to have reportedly defeated Davis by nearly 1 million votes, it seems unlikely that Democrats would have won that particular election even without the new, unconstitutional law in place.
Still, as we've reported here many, many times over the years, our concern is not about who wins and loses any particular election. It's about the ability of Americans to exercise their right to vote, should they choose to, and to have that vote counted, counted accurately and in a way that they can know it's been counted accurately.
There is no question that the new Republican law kept voters from being able to exercise their rights in Texas. We've already reported how 93-year old veterans and born and raised Texans were kept from voting, as well as student voters unable to vote now that state-issued student Photo IDs are disallowed for the first time. Others have similarly reported a "surge of disenfranchised voters" this year in Texas.
Whether or not it directly affected election outcomes specifically (and, if the early numbers are correct, it would almost certainly have had an effect on smaller, closer contests throughout the state), the right to vote is --- or, at least should be --- sacred. Republicans enjoy pretending that's the case when they argue in favor of strict Photo ID restrictions and others that serve only to suppress the right to vote. Democrats, and those of us who really do give a damn about the right to vote, ought to be fighting like hell for that right, no matter how many specific election outcomes may or may not be at stake.