Voter turnout in Texas is indisputably awful. The March primaries drew 1.9 million, with only 560,033 voting in the Democratic contest and the rest voting in the more competitive Republican races. According to the Texas secretary of state’s office, there were 18.9 million adults in the state in March, and 13.6 million of them were registered to vote. Texans did even worse in the runoff last month. Only 951,461 voted — 201,008 in the Democratic primary. The competitive pickings were admittedly slim on that side of the ballot, but there is no way to spin Texas voters’ anemic level of interest into a positive commentary on civic engagement.
“It is kind of an electoral wasteland — not a lot of competition, not a lot of motivation for the parties to get out and mobilize,” said Michael P. McDonald, associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University. “If there is no battle, they just sit back and become weak and flabby.”
In years when voters are not driven to the polls by presidential races — those always inflate the numbers — Texas is one of the worst places in the country for voter turnout and engagement.
In 2010, 32.1 percent of the state’s eligible adults voted in the general election, according to the United States Elections Project maintained by McDonald. Only one place was worst: the District of Columbia, with 28.9 percent. The national rate was 41 percent — still lousy, but much better than in Texas. Minnesota was at the head of the class that year, turning out 55.4 percent of its eligible population.