Voter Registration

Members of the League of Women Voters of Greater Joplin Area register Missouri Southern State University students to vote Tuesday. Globe | Roger Nomer

AUSTIN — Nationwide reports in conservative states are finding that people, and women in particular, are registering to vote in droves following June’s controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found abortion access is not a constitutional right.

In Texas, that is not likely the case.

According to state data, Texas has added about 350,000 net new voters since the March primaries — accounting for not only voters that have been added, but also those who have been removed — with about 17.5 million registered voters by mid-September. The increase in overall voters is not far from previous midterm election registration trends; in 2018, Texas added about 544,000 net new voters between the primary and general elections.

Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications, said that because Texans still have until Oct. 11 to register to vote, he anticipates the final tally will likely be “on par with previous cycles.”

Demographic information such as gender identification is not regularly collected by the state, Taylor said.

But recent database queries have found that prior to the June 24 Supreme Court ruling, about 50.79% of registered Texas voters identified as female. Of the 309,112 people who have either registered to vote or updated their registration since June 25, 152,335, or slightly less than half, identified as female.

“The gender field on the voter registration application is completely optional – not required in order to become a registered voter. So, we don’t necessarily have data for everyone if they don’t indicate their gender on their application,” Taylor said, adding that the numbers also include individuals who simply updated their voter registration.

TEXAS AND ABORTION

Texas has been at the forefront of restricting abortion access in the country.

The state last fall enacted its controversial Heartbeat Act, making it illegal to help someone get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. That’s usually around six weeks of pregnancy, or before many people know they are pregnant.

When the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization in late June, nearly all abortions in the state were stopped. A so-called trigger law went into effect in August, making it a second-degree felony for anyone to knowingly perform, induce or attempt an abortion unless the life of the pregnant person is at risk.

Following the Dobbs decision, Texas Democrats — particularly those running at the state level — have used it as a rallying cry, hoping anger will drive voters to the polls.

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, has frequently referred to the abortion laws while on his statewide tour.

“There's a referendum on reproductive health care freedom in Texas: It’s called the governor's race,” O’Rourke said on the campaign trail. “You can either vote for Greg Abbott, who signed a bill that outlaws abortion beginning at conception, with no exception for rape or incest, or you can vote for me because I will have the back of every Texas woman so that she makes her own decisions about her own body and her own future.”

Even political action committees like Mothers Against Greg Abbott have funded ads highlighting the state’s abortion laws and what they say is an extreme overreach by the government.

Ike Hajinazarian, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party, said recent polling data is informing the push to voters ahead of the election.

One poll by Planned Parenthood Texas Votes found that about 60% of Texas voters believe that abortion should be available in all or most cases, with about 11% of Texans stating they want abortion to be banned in all cases.

A second poll by The Texas Politics Project found that 49% of respondents say abortion laws in Texas should be made “less strict,” while only 12% say abortion should never be permitted.

“The minuscule, far-right fringe of the Republican Party that Gov. Abbott is appealing to with this extremist ban is already a highly motivated contingent. In contrast, we as Texas Democrats are appealing to and motivating the overwhelming majority of the population with our highly popular stance of giving women reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy,” Hajinazarian said.

Recent polling also has led Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democrats, to urge local Democratic leaders to listen to what voters are telling them.

“The statistics about this moment are unequivocal in what they are signaling – and as Texas Democrats, we have a political obligation to meet this moment and channel Texan women’s righteous anger and frustration into action,” Hinojosa said. “We must move mountains to register each and every eligible woman to vote. We must do everything in our power to make it as easy as possible for every eligible Texas woman to cast her vote.”

Texas abortion opponents say they are unfazed.

Rebecca Parma, senior legislative associate for Texas Right to Life, said her organization is not concerned that the Dobbs decision could impact the party at the ballot box. She said she believes the outcome of the Aug. 2 election in Kansas — where voters rejected a measure that would have affirmed there is no right to abortion in the state’s constitution — is not a good indicator of what future abortion votes will look like across the country.

Although there have been reports of more people registering to vote following the Dobbs decision, Parma said she believes there is a difference between registering to vote and actually voting.

“We are interested to see how abortion will impact the election results, but I think that it will motivate Republicans as much as Democrats to get out and vote for their elected officials and candidates who will continue to support life-saving laws,” Parma said.

Amy O'Donnell, director of communications for Texas Alliance for Life, said she believes Texas “is staying true to its roots.”

“Texas is largely pro-life,” O'Donnell said. “When the election comes, we'll see that reflected at the polls.”

COULD DOBBS CHANGE TEXAS?

While state Democrats are ramping up their discussions on abortion, Republicans are tamping it down, often shifting the focus to border security and the economy.

Matt Rinaldi, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, brushed off the role the Dobbs decision could play in the upcoming election. He said what will bring people to the polls is their concern about whether they can feed, clothe and educate their children.

“The GOP has widened its lead since Dobbs because Texans are seeing an open border, record crime and first-in-a-generation levels of inflation, while Democrats ignore these issues and push unrestricted abortion until birth as their top issue to motivate the most radical elements of their base,” Rinaldi said.

Daron Shaw, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said that although he believes the Democrats’ concentration on abortion is the best campaign strategy, it is unlikely to be enough to flip the state blue.

While Democrats have found themselves to be competitive this election cycle, Shaw said few Texans believe abortion is the No. 1 issue in the state. Because of that, he said, Texas Democrats should not only repeat abortion rights narratives, but also tie them to an overarching theme about the Republican Party platform if they want to succeed at the polls.

“In Texas, the default Republican advantage right now is between five and 10 points for statewide races,” Shaw said. “Is Dobbs enough to overturn what would probably be an eight- to 10-point added win? I am really dubious about that.”

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