Secretaries of state across the country have begun to report their voting statistics, and the United States Elections Project out of George Mason University is eagerly awaiting them. It will be deep into January, however, before its analysis will be completed. Already, however, indications are that history has repeated itself — the states that historically have done the best job of getting voters to the polls were on top again. Think Oregon, South Dakota, Alaska, Wisconsin and Maine. Texas is expected to come in at the bottom again with one of the lowest voter participation rates in the country. What do the best voting states do? It’s not too surprising. They’re liberal in their openness, having instituted same-day registration, or voting by mail, or in one of the most interesting cases (North Dakota) no voter registration at all. These high-turnout states share some characteristics. They have higher educational and income levels. They’re whiter and older, and many of them have had highly competitive elections in which no one party dominates. They’re states that UTSA political scientist Patricia Jaramillo has called “moralistic states,” which encourage participation, as opposed to “traditionalistic individualist states” that don’t encourage voting beyond those already engaged.
Some, like Texas, have tended to go out of their way to make voting more difficult by instituting voter identification laws and by aggressively gerrymandering districts, which results in less competitive races. “If you do one reform, Election Day registration would be best,” says Michael P. McDonald of the United States Election Project. “It would increase turnout by 5 to 7 percent.”
McDonald — who has served as a redistricting consultant and expert witness, including in Texas’ redistricting lawsuit — congratulates Texas for its in-person early voting system. But he says what’s really depressing turnout in Texas is that “one party dominates.” “It’s crippling competition at the statewide level,” McDonald says. “It’s great if you’re a Republican, but bad if you like democracy. There’s no driving need to vote.”