As soon as early voting started on October 13, Texas saw record numbers of people coming out to vote. By October 30, Texas had exceeded 100 percent of its total 2016 turnout with more than nine million Texans casting their ballots before Election Day.
Those incredible numbers hopefully point to a shift in higher voter participation not just in our state, but also around the country.
The number of registered voters that show up for presidential elections tends to hover between 50 and 60 percent, a number is all too low and even lower in midterm elections. The 2018 midterms had the highest voter turnout in four decades, and even then, turnout was only 53 percent. According to the Associated Press, the tallied votes accounted for 62% of the eligible voting-age population in the U.S as of Sunday, Nov. 8. That’s a 0.4 percentage point increase so far over the rate hit in 2008 when the nation elected its first Black president.
In Texas, at least 66% of the 17 million registered voters cast ballots in the 2020 general election, also according to AP. That’s 6.6 percentage points higher than the total turnout in 2016.
What is it that has energized Texans when it comes to our elections? On one hand, I think our newfound status as a battleground state has partly influenced that; Texas has traditionally been a stronghold for Republicans. As we continue to expand in population, become more diverse, and voting becomes easier for everyone, the more our state moves toward becoming purple.
There’s a feeling among left-leaning voters that our votes count more than ever. It’s surreal to think that Texas may now be considered a swing state in upcoming elections, though it’s also possible that we have this unusual distinction in 2020 because of the divisive, hateful rhetoric that Donald Trump has amplified. It’s possible that Texas may move back toward familiar Republican territory if that party fields someone “normal” (though just about anyone would seem normal in comparison to Trump) in a future election.
But the gains Democrats have made cannot be ignored. Our voice is growing and will continue to do so. We saw that in the upset of Lina Hidalgo’s win in Harris County, and Lizzie Fletcher’s win over 9-term incumbent John Culberson in Texas’ 7th congressional district.
Nationwide, records have been shattered with the unprecedented early voting and voting by mail numbers. This is largely fueled by the ongoing pandemic. Unfortunately, we are seeing Republicans in power resort to the dirtiest tactics possible to undermine and disenfranchise voters. Republicans tried several times to get drive-through voting in Harris County halted, and in late October once again asked the Texas Supreme Court to intervene, this time requesting that the hundreds of thousands of votes cast via drive-through voting be invalidated.
In Minnesota, voters potentially have not had their votes counted after Election Day.
The Supreme Court ruled that in Wisconsin, votes that arrived after Election Day (even if they were postmarked Nov. 3 or earlier) would not count.
This is voter suppression, pure and simple. What we are seeing is a Republican party terrified by the unprecedented turnout we’ve seen thus far. Republicans know that the more people that get out there and vote, the less of a chance they have of holding on to power. The comical thing is that votes arriving after Election Day and continuing to be counted afterward is a completely normal aspect of elections, and it suddenly becoming an issue now is telling: Republicans see the writing on the wall. Whether by limiting polling locations, cutting into early voting or strict signature-matching requirements for mail-in ballots, Republicans at every turn have tried to make it harder to vote for everyone. Trump exacerbates this with his encouragement of his supporters to go to the polls to poll watch, a clear attempt to intimidate those who don’t support him.
If there is one silver lining to the blatant attack on voting rights that Republicans have launched, it’s that perhaps this issue will be met head-on with the gumption that it deserves with a Democratic White House, House of Representatives, and Senate. Something like automatic voter registration would probably terrify a lot of rank and file Republicans, with inevitable claims that it opens the door for voter fraud —of which there is no evidence. Voter fraud is incredibly rare in the United States).
Truly, increased voter participation can only be a good thing. Countries like Australia and Germany all have north of 90 percent voter participation. What a win it would be if the U.S. could someday match those numbers.
It took four days to determine that Joe Biden will be President. Perhaps now we can begin to undo the damage of the last four years.
But this sweeping Democratic Party victory won’t mark the end of our fight as there are cases being addressed by the Supreme Court in November that will have huge ramifications on our nation — namely, the future of the Affordable Care Act and a case in Philadelphia that could threaten anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ parents seeking to adopt.