Travis County set a “modern-day record” for voter registration ahead of the Texas midterms, said Bruce Elfant, Travis County tax assesor-collector.
As of Oct. 26, 94.5 percent of eligible citizens in the county were registered to vote, up from 92.6 percent in 2016, Elfant said. The number of registered voters could continue to grow as his office processes the remaining registration applications.
“We’re very proud to have so many people in Travis County registered to vote,” Elfant said. “We don’t normally see this kind of voter activity in a midterm election year, which is why this is so exciting.”
At the state level, a record-breaking 15.6 million people registered ahead of the upcoming election, said Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, earlier
A combination of factors at the national, state and local levels contributed to the increased interest in registration, said Joshua Blank, manager of polling and research at UT’s Texas Politics Project.
“Our national environment is relentless in focusing on politics and current events,” Blank said. “It makes even people who are otherwise unlikely to pay attention unable to avoid politics.”
The closely watched U.S. Senate race between Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is also influencing voter enthusiasm, Blank said.
“The big factor here in Texas is a competitive race at the top of the ticket,” Blank said. “That’s not something that’s very common in Texas and is likely leading more people to pay more attention than normal.”
Blank said the number of competitive races for seats in the federal and state legislature is also influencing voter enthusiasm in Texas.
“At the far reaches of Travis County, in each direction, there are Democratic candidates running against entrenched Republican incumbents and/or for open seats in competitive races that are normally not very competitive,” Blank said. “Those Democratic candidates, in part, have an incentive to register and turn out voters in Travis County, which tends to be more Democratic than its adjacent counties.”
Elfant said he’s encouraged by the increase in voter enthusiasm and hopes it translates to increased voter turnout.
“I hope people keep it up,” Elfant said. “Registering is not enough — you have to be motivated to want to go vote. You have to feel like something’s at stake and recognize that you have a say in the matter.”
Elfant said the 500 UT students serving as volunteer deputy registrars this year were instrumental in registering young people. Registered voters age 18 to 25 now make up the largest group in Travis County.
Maya Patel, vice president of TX Votes, a nonpartisan student organization focused on increasing civic engagement, has spent months registering students to vote. She said student deputy registrars visited over 260 classrooms to register students ahead of the Oct. 9 deadline.
“Last semester, we only went to 35 classrooms,” chemistry junior Patel said. “We’re really excited that we were able to register over 260 classrooms, and we feel it was a very effective way to get students registered to vote.”
Patel said she hopes more students will vote now that they’re registered.
“Young people are now the largest voting bloc in Travis County, which means we have a lot of power,” Patel said. “If we want to see something happen in our government, we have the power to vote and make it happen.”