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Enthusiasm, Voter Registration in Texas Could Mean Change This Fall

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There really is something happening in Texas. We’ve seen it in town halls held in every corner of the state, we’ve seen it in voter registration efforts in big counties like Travis, Dallas, Harris, and Bexar, and now we’re seeing it in polling.

Yesterday, an NBC News/Marist poll had the Texas Senate race within 4 points, with El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke coming in at 45 percent, right on the heels of Senator Ted Cruz, who came in at 49 percent.

These numbers aren’t surprising to those of us who have been paying attention. Rep. O’Rourke’s people-led and PAC-money-free campaign has led to rallies that have turned out hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of enthusiastic Texans.

But it’s not only the Senate race that has been making waves. Texas, long seen as a Republican stronghold, has seen the GOP’s grip loosen in several districts that could potentially flip in November.

Texas congressional districts 7, 23, 32 are all districts that are currently held by Republicans, and were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, and several experts believe they could flip or be much closer than during the last election. Each of these districts is different, but are all anchored around large Texas cities, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas, respectively.

Of course, all of this change is contingent on the one thing we always talk about when we talk about elections in Texas: turnout. Historically, Texas has consistently been among the bottom states in terms of turnout, and for midterms, those numbers are actually worse. In 2014, Texas had the lowest turnout in the country among all eligible voters at 28.5 percent, and that number will have to be significantly higher if Texas were to finally turn purple, as many have predicted.

And in 2016, during a presidential election no less, Texas was fifth from the bottom as only 55 percent of Texans cast a ballot that year.

So what will be different in 2018? Well, for one, there are tax-assessors and voter registrars in large counties that are committed to registering as many voters as they can between now and the October 9 deadline. In fact, Travis County — where Austin is located — 750,125 people, or more than 90 percent of those eligible, have registered to vote, and similar registration efforts are underway in Harris County, which includes Houston, the state’s most populous city.

But beyond elected officials, organizations and communities themselves have stepped up their efforts to engage Texans, especially young Texans of color, who are historically the most difficult to engage. More than one-third of Latinos in the state are still not of voting age, but many are turning 18 every day, and organizations like MOVE Texas, JOLT, Mi Familia Vota, Voto Latino, among others, are doing the outreach necessary to ensure that young Texans have a voice in the future of their state.

But will all of this be enough? In 2016, the gap in Texas was about equal to that of Iowa and Ohio, yet our state still suffers from a lack of resources despite the fact that demographically Texas looks like what much of the country will look like in the not-too-distant future.

So, yeah, there is something happening in Texas — and it’s going to keep happening. Texas is already a majority-minority state. We are working to ensure that every election reflects the reality of the Lone-Star State, and it may well happen for the first time this November.