Ross Ramsey

Texas soundly rebuffs Democratic efforts to turn the state purple: analysis

"Analysis: Texas voters still fly a red political flag" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas is not blue, but after this latest election, its Democrats are.

The party's latest effort to turn Texas its way fell short on Tuesday. Democrats got no wins in statewide races from the presidency to the high courts, and the party's elected officials remain in the minorities of the congressional delegation, the Texas Senate and the Texas House.

Still, Texas Democrats have steadily made it more difficult for Republicans to get things done when the Democrats don't want to go along. With the 2020 general election behind us, the Republican state House majority is intact, but small. The GOP advantage in the Senate has shrunk again, to the point where Republicans will need to change their rules or be forced to win Democratic support to bring legislation before the full Senate for debate.

If the issues of the day were not enough to force Texas lawmakers into practical things, the politics would be.

Those “practical things" are numerous.

The pandemic continues to require action from the state, and many legislators want a say in a response that has so far been a solo act for Gov. Greg Abbott, who's been relying on emergency powers to control everything from business closings to rules for wearing masks.

The staggering economic impact of the pandemic has cut deeply into state revenues, leaving lawmakers with a multibillion-dollar hole in the current two-year budget and larger problems for the two-year budget they will have to write in 2021. The session's financial troubles will start with the first and move to the second, an unwelcome invitation to either cut spending or to find new money to spend.

Issues raised by the killing of George Floyd and others at the hands of police will be on the agenda, including police training, funding, and the liabilities and responsibilities of officers for their own actions on the job.

Lawmakers will probably take up voting and election laws, a persistent source of litigation and argument during this election cycle and an area of law ripe for legislative tinkering and remodeling.

They'll tackle redistricting, drawing political maps that could be used for federal and state legislative races for up to the next 10 years — the issue that persuaded out-of-state Democrats and Republicans to pump millions of dollars into Texas House races this year.

And they'll be doing all of that in a Texas Capitol where social interaction is limited, where there has been talk of limiting the number of bills in order to minimize risks, and of limiting public access to the proceedings.

It's not going to be the kind of session where politicians spend their time arguing about proposed regulations on which bathrooms transgender individuals may use. They have real work to do.

And they have real politics in their way. The Senate, which has been the more conservative chamber for several sessions, has been limited by what it could get past the more moderate, but still Republican House. And the Senate lost a Republican vote on Tuesday night, cutting into the Republican majority there.

It's not that the place became more liberal in this election. The Democrats, with a very few exceptions, fell short.

But what's left is a House with a narrow Republican majority, a Senate with one more Democrat than before, and a Republican governor trying to keep all of the party's factions moving in the same direction.

Texas is not as reliably red as some might think, but after the contentious and expensive 2020 elections, the Democrats haven't been able to make it a blue one.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/11/04/texas-elections-republicans/.

The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state. Explore the next 10 years with us.

This is the hardest state to vote in: analysis

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It's harder than in 49 other states, according to a “cost-of-voting index" compiled by political scientists at Northern Illinois University, Jacksonville University and Wuhan University in China.

Obviously, it's not impossible to vote in Texas; more than 10% of the state's registered voters — about 2 million citizens — had already cast their ballots, either in person or by mail, by Thursday night. That's certainly a sign of enthusiasm, and could either be a signal of a bigger-than-normal turnout or that a lot of Texas were itching to vote and did so as soon as they could.

But the state has erected obstacles throughout the voting system, and when you compare the comfort and convenience of voting in Texas with other states, Texas ends up at the bottom of the list.

Voting and election law is a persistent struggle in Texas between those who want to knock down impediments to voting and those who think more safeguards are needed to secure the process and the results — though the evidence for this is both anecdotal and thin.

That particular battlefield ranges from voter ID to current legal battles over how many drop-offs each county is allowed to provide for voters who would rather not put their absentee ballots in the mail, who's eligible to vote by mail and whether counties with curbside voting are making things too simple.

Here's how the researchers wrote up our state's position on the list: “Texas maintains an in-person voter registration deadline 30 days prior to Election Day, has reduced the number of polling stations in some parts of the state by more than 50% and has the most restrictive pre-registration law in the country, according to the analysis."

States at the top of the list — where it's easiest to vote — have voting conveniences that aren't available here, like online voter registration, automatic voter registration and allowing voters to register as late as Election Day. (The Texas deadline was Oct. 5.)

Some have universal mail-in voting, which the study considers a hallmark of a state where it's easy to vote. In Texas, voting by mail is only available to people ages 65 and older, to eligible voters confined to jail, for voters who are out of their county of residence during voting, and for voters who cite a disability that prevents them from safely going to the polls.

And higher-rated states require only a signature for in-person voting, instead of tight voter photo identification laws like the one in Texas.

Texas has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country, turning out 45.6% of its population of eligible voters in 2018, compared with a national average of 49.4%, according to the United States Election Project. In the last presidential race, in 2016, turnout was 51.4% of the state's eligible voters, a number that includes adults eligible to vote whether they registered or not. The national average was 60.1%.

The cost-of-voting index is an update of a study that includes indexes for elections back to 1996. In 2016, Texas was fifth from the bottom of the list, in company with Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia and Mississippi. This time around, Texas is behind every other state, in the bottom of the barrel with Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Maybe the low turnout in Texas is related to the state's restrictive voting laws. Maybe eligible adults in Texas are less interested in voting, and the state's voting laws are just an excuse for the low civic engagement.

There's a way to find out, if state lawmakers' goal is to get more Texans voting. If they wanted more people to vote, they'd make it easier.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/10/19/texas-voting-elections/.

The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state. Explore the next 10 years with us.

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