There is much talk about a potential upset in Texas in the upcoming elections because Beto O’Rourke is polling closer to Greg Abbott and has outraised Abbott according to the latest campaign financial reports. Among the discussions includes whether O’Rourke will impact local races in November. The argument being that O’Rourke will drive infrequent El Paso voters to the polls. In addition to O’Rourke there are the two issues of abortion and gun control that has given the Texas Democrats hope that O’Rourke can help defeat the Republicans in the midterms. How true the Beto Factor is remains to be seen but early indicators do not fair well for the dream of a Democratic upset in November.

Before addressing the voter turnout because of O’Rourke, it is important to clarify how voter participation is counted in America. How voter participation is counted provides us a better understanding for Texas voters. For El Paso, not so much because El Paso voters will vote the Democratic Party ticket notwithstanding the issues of abortion, gun control and the Beto Factor.

Michael P. McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida has compiled a dataset of national and state election turnout in America. According to his dataset, American voter turnout between 1787 and 2018 averaged 53.21%. McDonald defines voter turnout as the voting-eligible population (VEP), a definition he developed where voter turnout is based on the “voting-eligible population,” which excludes non-citizens living in the country and other ineligible voters like felons and individuals deemed mentally incapacitated. Other voter participation metrics simply divide the country’s population by the number of registered voters to show voter participation. This type of quantifying voter participation distorts how voters participate at the ballot box because it does not account for the population that is ineligible to vote. America has traditionally been a haven for immigrants. According to Pew Research, in 2016 the United States had “more immigrants than any other country in the world.” [1] Because immigrants cannot generally vote until they naturalize themselves, including them in the population count to arrive at voter participation distorts America’s voter participation. McDonald’s data shows that between 1825 and 1900, American voters voted at about 80% of the voting-eligible population. From 1900 to 2018, the average voter turnout was about 60% in presidential elections. [2]

McDonald’s research addresses a fundamental problem with how voter turnout is reported in American elections. The United States, according to a Pew Research project in 2020, lags most countries in voter turnout. Pew Research reported that 55.72% of America’ voting age population cast a vote in 2016. However, Pew reported that 86.80% of America’s registered voters cast a vote in 2016. [3] The disparity between the two sets of figures is on how one defines the pool of voters. The voting-age population (VAP) is the number of people eligible to vote based on the population. This metric can include felons who are ineligible to vote in some states and immigrants, both documented and undocumented who are counted as part of the population. A more accurate figure is one where the number of registered voters is counted against the population of voters that are legally allowed to cast ballots.

Pew argues that American voters lag in voter participation because 55.27% of the population cast a vote in 2016. Pew goes on to report that 86.8% of America’s registered voters cast a ballot in 2016. [4] The two figures contradict each other because including ineligible voters in a county like the United States, whose population includes at least 10% that are non-citizen, distorts the reality. Although an exact foreign-born population is unknown, it is estimated by various sources that there are over 40 million people in America today that were not born in the country. That figure translates to almost 14% of the population. That amount is enough to distort the ratio between the population against those registered to vote.
Basing voter turnout by population ignores a fundamental metric, that of the population that is ineligible to vote. Any American citizen, whether a naturalized citizen or an individual born as a citizen is eligible to vote once they turn eighteen years old. It is incumbent upon the citizen to register to vote. However, depending on the jurisdiction, some American adults are not eligible to vote. For example, non-citizens are not eligible to cast a vote although they are counted as part of America’s population.

In the 2020 elections, those with felony convictions were ineligible to cast a vote in 48 states. However, their ineligibility to cast a vote depends on the state. According to a study by The Sentencing Project, an estimated 5.17 million people were prohibited from voting in 2020 due to a felony conviction. Texas, according to The Sentencing Project, disfranchised 2.8% of its voter age population in 2020. [5] The disfranchisement of felons goes back to the 1800’s. In 1838, Florida prohibited felons from casting votes. In 2018, 64% of Florida voters approved Amendment 4 restoring voting rights to most felons in the state. However, even though voters approved restoring the voting rights of voters, local jurisdictions and the Republican Party have created new legislation making it difficult for felons to cast a vote. [6] The 2018 Florida vote restoring the voting rights of felons was the catalyst for several other states to do the same. [7]

In 1997, Texas restored the voting rights of felons once the individual has served their sentence, including probation having been completed. (Texas Election Code: 11.002)

When it comes to voting, women tend to outperform men in casting votes. From 1980 through 2020, women consistently cast more votes than men, except for an anomaly in 1994. In 1980, 70% of women voters cast a vote compared 69.3% of the registered men. By 2020, 74.1% of registered women voted compared to 71.2% of the men. The only anomaly was in 1994 when 68.2% of the men outperformed the 65.9% of the women who cast a vote that year. Interestingly, the biggest disparity between men and women occurred the previous election when 73.7% of the men cast a vote in 1992. In that election only 64.6% of the women registered to vote voted. [8]

When it comes to race, Hispanics participate less than White and Black Americans. In 1978, only 36.2% of Hispanic males and 32.6% of Hispanic females reported voting. During the same period, 37.3% of Black men and 38.8% of Black women reported voting. Almost 50% (49.4%) of White men and 48.2% of White women also cast a vote in 1978. By 2020, although Hispanic voting participation had increased, Hispanics still lagged Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, Blacks and Whites in ballots cast. [9]

Understanding voting patterns in America provides us a segue into how El Pasoans may vote in November. Driving voters in Texas are three primary public issues.

The Texas Trigger Issues

In Texas there are three major trigger issues for voters. There are two issues leading the voting discussion in Texas. They are the issues of abortion and gun control. The question is whether these issues will upset the state’s voting trends enough to propel Beto O’Rourke to the governor’s seat. O’Rourke is banking on a voter revolt in Texas. Texas Democrats are hoping so, as well. A July 6, 2022, poll by the University of Texas at Austin found that 37% of the Texas voters polled approved of Texas’ abortion trigger law in the wake of the Roe decision. Also, when it comes to gun control, Texas Democrats overwhelmingly (50%) believe that the current gun laws are the factor behind the mass shootings. [10]

But as much as those two issues – abortion and gun control – are touted by O’Rourke and the Democrats, they do not seem to be resonating among Texas voters. When the pollsters asked the voters about their views in the 2022 elections, Texas voters pointed to the economy as their primary concern. The economy is the third driving issue for voters.

Seventy-three percent of those polled said that the national economy is worse now than it was last year. As for the Texas economy, 58% said that the state’s economy was now worse. When asked if the American economy was on the right track, 76% said it was not, with 59% adding that the Texas economy was on the wrong track as well. [11]

Clearly the economy is the issue that voters are looking at.

Because the Democrats control the presidency and the Congress, it is likely that the voters’ concerns about the economy will trickle down through the ballot box in November. Thus, as much as the Democrats and O’Rourke are pointing to the polls showing O’Rourke closing the gap on Abbott, basing the November election on abortion and gun control is unlikely to drive voters to the polls.

For El Paso the three trigger issues are immaterial because El Paso Democrats will be voting along party lines. Thus, for El Paso voters, the three trigger issues are unlikely to have any impact on voter participation even if Beto O’Rourke is factored into the equation. However, there is one caveat.

The Beto Factor

Although not a presidential election, where more voters turn out, the upcoming November election has several issues that are important to El Paso voters. Among them are Beto O’Rourke’s quest to unseat Texas governor Greg Abbott. O’Rourke is banking on several issues coming together this year to increase O’Rourke’s chances of unseating the incumbent Abbott. They are the issues of abortion and gun control. The Uvalde murders of 19 children and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. The murder of the Uvalde children on May 24 has pitted Abbott’s pro-gun stance against O’Rourke’s gun control policy argument.

Texas saw a slight uptick of voter turnout in the last primary election. Texas voters have historically had dismal turnouts in midterm primary elections. [12] The latest midterm elections were held before the Uvalde murders and the Roe v. Wade decision. In addition, the Republican-led Texas legislature has enacted several new voting rules that some argue further limits voter participation. Among them are restrictions on voter identification and voter assistance rules. [13]

In the wake of the Uvalde murders and especially the Roe v. Wade decision, the question of whether these issues will mobilize voters has been argued. Polls show that most Americans oppose the Roe decision [14], but the question political operatives are trying to answer is whether the opposition is enough to motivate more voters in November.

Beto O’Rourke is banking his governor’s quest on mobilizing Democratic Party voters in November. O’Rourke has been steadily chiseling away at Abbott’s lead with the Uvalde murders and Roe over the last few weeks according to election polling. Not only has O’Rourke raised more than the incumbent Abbot, according to the latest financial reports but he has closed the gap between them to be within striking distance giving the Democrats hope that O’Rourke can upset the governor’s race in November. Also driving the pressure on the Republicans are the electrical grid problems, Uvalde (gun control) and abortion rights. [15] But have these issues creating new voters as some are hoping?

Uptick In Voter Registrations?

According to our data on June 10, 2022, there were 500,191 registered voters in El Paso County. As of July 25, 1,638 new voters have registered according to the County Elections Department. New voter registrations in the last month represents less than one percent. Moreover, there is no indication that voter registration numbers have gone up in Texas as the result of Roe and Uvalde, suggesting that an uptick in new voter registrations will not impact the November elections.

The Democrats are hoping that the backlash on Roe would help mobilize voters during the November midterms. [16] Whether this becomes a reality is yet unknown, however the lack of new voters registering to vote suggests that the so-called progressive movement is not mobilizing voters to the ballot box. This also suggests that Beto O’Rourke, although closing in on Abbott according to recent polling, may not have the necessary votes he is banking on. In El Paso, voter mobilization also seems to be stagnant although O’Rourke is on the ballot, city council seats are up for grabs and city charter amendments will be on the ballot. So far, the most controversial city charter amendment that may be on the ballot is doing away with the mayor’s veto authority.

There is also the possibility that the University Medical Center of El Paso’s (UMC) request for $346 million in non-voter approved public debt could be on the ballot in November, as well. Although UMC is hoping to convince the county commissioners to approve its request on September 12, the commissioners may decide not to do so. It is possible that the county commissioners will ask UMC to take the request to the voters, or UMC may choose to do so on its own. In addition, there is a petition movement developing where voters may get to vote on the UMC debt.

Nonetheless, current indicators suggest are that El Paso voters are just not that interested in abortion, gun control or Beto O’Rourke to change the voting dynamics of the city’s electorate. For the city council races, the only impact seems to be more women casting votes on Election Day seemingly giving female candidates an edge. This, however, is not new as women tend to vote more than men in El Paso and in the U.S. Thus, a women movement would have to mobilize many more women than the current scenario seems to suggest. It just doesn’t seem like women will mobilize in the numbers necessary to have an impact in El Paso’s elections in November.

Historically, El Paso voters vote in single digit turnouts. In the November 2019 elections, only 7.56% of the electorate cast a vote. The same was true for 2021 and 2022 when 4.32% of the registered voters voted in 2021 and 5.21% of the electorate cast a vote in the March primaries. The last major voter mobilization of El Paso voters was on November 3, 2020, when 55.13% of registered voters in El Paso cast a vote in that election. The 2020 elections were a referendum on the Trump presidency. This mobilized voters across the country. Trump is not on the ballot in the upcoming November elections and the issues of abortion and gun control do not seem to have translated into triggers issues for El Paso voters. Thus, at best, El Paso voter turnout may increase slightly but not enough to mobilize El Paso voters like they did in 2020.

Martín Paredes became a partner of Politico Campaigns, a political campaign management firm, in June 2022. The views and opinion expressed in our publication are those of Paredes and do not necessarily represent the views of the firm or its other partners. El Paso News is funded primarily by Paredes, in part by donations from readers and online advertisement. Politico Campaigns plays no role in our reporting. El Paso News has an open editorial policy encouraging any author to submit any article from any point of view for consideration to be published on El Paso News.

Footnotes:

  1. Phillip Connor & Gustavo López, “5 facts about the U.S. rank in worldwide migration,” Pew Research, accessed July 25, 2022, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/05/18/5-facts-about-the-u-s-rank-in-worldwide-migration/
  2. Michael P. McDonald, “United States Elections Project,” accessed July 20, 2022, http://www.electproject.org/national-1789-present.
  3. Drew Desilver, “In past elections, U.S. trailed most developed countries in voter turnout,” Pew Research Center, November 3, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/11/03/in-past-elections-u-s-trailed-most-developed-countries-in-voter-turnout/.
  4. Desilver, “In past elections, U.S. trailed,”.
  5. Chris Uggen, Ryan Larson, Sarah Shannon and Arleth Pulido-Nava, “Locked Out 2020: Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights Due to a Felony Conviction,” The Sentencing Project, October 30, 2020.
  6. Bianca Fortis, “A Government Official Helped Them Register. Now They’ve Been Charged With Voter Fraud,” ProPublica, July 21, 2022.
  7. Zach Montellaro, “States moving fast after Congress failed to expand felon voting rights,” Politico, February 2, 2020.
  8. “Gender Differences in Voter Turnout,” Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University, accessed on July 23, 2022, https://cawp.rutgers.edu/facts/voters/gender-differences-voter-turnout.
  9. “Gender Differences in Voter Turnout”
  10. “The Texas Politics Project,” The University of Texas At Austin, College of Liberal Arts, accessed on July 20, 2022, https://texaspolitics.utexas.edu/blog/new-uttexas-politics-project-poll-share-texans-saying-state-wrong-track-reaches-new-high-while.
  11. “The Texas Politics Project”
  12. Mandi Cai and Sneha Dey, “Nearly 18% of registered Texas voters cast 2022 primary ballots,” Th Texas Tribune, February 14, 2022, https://www.texastribune.org/2022/02/14/texas-primary-voting-turnout/.
  13. Cai “Nearly 18% of registered Texas voters cast”.
  14. Philip Bump, “Overturning Roe is unpopular, and viewed as largely political,” The Washington Post, June 27, 2022.
  15. J. David Goodman, “After Recent Turmoil, the Race for Texas Governor Is Tightening,” The New York Times, July 24, 2022.
  16. Gromer Jeffers, Jr., “Texas Democrats hope abortion ruling backlash will help in November elections,” The Dallas Morning News, June 26, 2022.

Martin Paredes

Reporting on public corruption, border politics, immigration and public policy in El Paso since 2000.