For the 2016 general election, Texas ranked 47th in voter turnout with 46.5 percent of those eligible to vote choosing to cast a ballot. In hard numbers, out of the 19 million people eligible to register, four million chose not to. Of the 15 million who did, nine million cast a ballot. That’s 10 million Texas citizens who opted out of the electoral process.
If we look at only registered voters, Texas turnout and Dallas County was around 59 percent. We have better news in East Dallas. Looking at the 12 precincts east of Interstate 75 and west of White Rock Lake, 73 percent of registered voters went to the polls. Although, if you include those who were eligible but did not register, the percentage dips to 51 percent.
These numbers shock and sadden me, especially when I compare them to other places we’ve lived, including Illinois, Washington and Sydney, where turnout for past national elections was 70 percent, 79 percent and 90 percent, respectively.
I used to believe the primary reason for low voter turnout in Texas was because people didn’t care or didn’t know there was an election. Although voter apathy is a component, it’s a small part of a complex problem. We live in a state that makes participating in the electoral process a challenge.
Case in point…my parents, who are seasoned voters decided they would vote by mail this year. Considering our COVID climate and their age, it seemed a prudent decision. And, holy cow, what a cumbersome process that was. Between confusing criteria and ambiguous rules, they’re worried they didn’t stuff or sign the envelope correctly and are fearing their ballot will be deemed invalid.
Another example…our oldest turned 18 a few weeks ago. It’s amazing how quickly time passes. I remember when his school held a mock election in 2008, his kinder year at Mockingbird Elementary. This time around, he’ll be casting a real ballot. He’s been primed and ready to vote ever since he got his driver’s license last year. As he checked the box at the DMV that said “automatically register me to vote,” he assumed he was automatically registered to vote.
Except he wasn’t. Apparently, the prompt is not meant to be taken literally and means nothing if you’re under 17 years and 10 months. Once he learned he wasn’t registered, he completed and mailed in a voter registration application. Comically, when he received his voter registration card, his name was misspelled. Back to Dallas County Votes we went to get it all sorted out.
Registering to vote in Texas is a paper-driven, calendar-centric, opt-in process that should be simplified and digitized. Twenty-one states plus the District of Columbia allow for same-day voter registration. Imagine that — being able to register AND vote on the same day.
Sixteen states plus the District of Columbia have automatic voter registration, which simplifies the process by making registration an opt-out versus an opt-in practice. Not only is everyone registered unless they choose not to be, the process is completed electronically.
Assuming you have met the requirements of being a U.S. citizen, are over the age of 18 and, if applicable, have served the sentence from your felony conviction, your ability to vote should be non-partisan and unencumbered. There should be no confusion, complication, obstruction, intimidation or suppression.
So, what’s a citizen to do?
Help others by registering at Rideshare 2 Vote to volunteer to drive people to the polls. Become an educated voter by printing out your sample ballot at Dallas County Votes and researching every race and proposition on your ballot. Make your life easier by voting early to avoid long lines.
In other words, have a voting plan. Figure out when, where and for whom you’re going to vote. My plan was so great that I was looking forward to it for a week. I met my friend, Carolyn, on Oct. 13, and after casting our ballots at Samuell Grand Recreation Center, we sat on the patio of Gloria’s on Lower Greenville to enjoy socially distant margaritas to toast the challenges and greatness of our democracy.
Mita Havlick is a neighborhood resident and Dallas Education Foundation director. Find her commentary regularly in the back pages of our print edition and online at lakewood.advocatemag.com.