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So, is Texas's voter-ID law deterring voters? The answer, so far, is hardly clear. Let's look at the early-voting period, which ended on October 31st: 19.11% of the registered voters in Texas’s 15 most populous counties weighed in, either in person or by mail. During this same period in 2010—the last non-presidential election year—the figure was 20.76%. Though the state has seen a steep rise in registered voters in recent years, the total number of early votes cast had ticked down, from 1,731,589 in 2010, to 1,715,731 this year.
Texas is known for its low turnout rate. Gerrymandered districts ensure few of the legislative races are competitive, and polls suggest that Republicans will once again win all the major races this year by whopping margins. Yet the decline in early voters is notable, as the state’s elections are busier and more exciting than usual this year. After more than a decade with Rick Perry at the helm, the state is getting a new governor; all of the top jobs in state government, in fact, are changing hands. And despite more than two decades of disarray, the Democrats started the cycle in a fighting mood. With Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth state senator, they have a high-profile candidate at the top of the ticket, and a number of impressive other candidates. In 2010 the party didn’t even have a candidate for comptroller; this year they chanced upon one with a sterling record from the private sector. National Democrats have also made a splashy effort to rally the troops via an initiative called Battleground Texas, which reportedly raised about $6.6m so far this year. Yet Texas voters are apparently failing to respond to all of this hubbub.
Perhaps this means the state's new law is suppressing turnout. Several details seem to confirm this possibility. For starters, the figures from Texas are consistent with patterns evident in other states. As Nate Silver wrote in 2012, laws requiring photo ID “seem to decrease turnout by about 2 percent as a share of the registered voter population.” It is also intriguing that while fewer Texans voted early in person this year, there has been a spike in the number voting by mail, which allows people to evade the photo-ID regulation as long as they can prove they are either disabled, aged 65 or older, travelling or confined in jail.
- Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Voter ID Laws.
- Measuring the Effects of Voter Identification Laws.
- Voters Turned Away Because of Texas Photo ID Law.