Travis County voter turnout doubles in 2018 Democratic primary

Sami Sparber

In Travis County, voter turnout in the Democratic primary more than doubled since the state’s last midterm election year in 2014.

In the 2014 Democratic primary, Travis County had a voter turnout rate of 7.73 percent of total registered voters. This year, 15.54 percent of the county’s 733,906 registered voters cast ballots in the Democratic race.

Travis County had a voter turnout rate of 5.58 percent of total registered voters in the 2014 Republican primary. This year, 5.54 percent voted in the Republican race.

Tuesday’s election marks the nation’s first statewide primary since President Donald Trump took office last year. Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, said Trump’s presidency likely contributed to the surge in Democratic turnout in the 2018 Texas primary.

“President Trump has become the major national issue driving politics,” Henson said. “It’s hard not to suspect that some of the increase in Democratic turnout has to do with the intensely negative feelings that almost all Democrats tell us they have about President Trump in our public opinion polling.”

During the early voting period, which ran from Feb. 20 to March 2, turnout at the Flawn Academic Center — UT Austin’s only on-campus polling site — nearly quadrupled this year, from 1,341 in 2014 to 4,365 in 2018, according to data from the Travis County Clerk’s Office.  The FAC also saw the fourth-highest turnout in Travis County compared to each of the other polling locations during this year’s early voting period.

TX Votes, a non-partisan student organization focused on improving civic engagement, spent the weeks leading up to election day promoting the election and registering students to vote in Travis County.

While UT has greatly improved its voter turnout in recent years, Zach Price, vice president of TX Votes, said many students are still not voting.

“One of the biggest blocks of non-voters in this country are young people,” said Price, a government and Plan II junior. “Sometimes there are laws in place that make it more difficult for young people to vote, or they’re moving and aren’t sure how to register or how voting works after they’ve changed counties. Something we see a lot is young people thinking they just don’t have enough time to vote.”

Due to a busy schedule and lack of knowledge regarding current issues, Plan II sophomore Abbey Bartz said she did not vote in the primary election even though she is registered to vote in Austin.

“I feel like part of growing up is figuring out where you stand on political issues, and it’s tough to do that on top of everything else we have to worry about,” Bartz said. “For me, being an informed voter fell to the wayside because my responsibilities as a student took precedence over my responsibilities as a voter.”

With the general election less than eight months away, Price said TX Votes will continue to work toward its goal of increasing voter turnout among students.

“I think the biggest reason for optimism is the wave of young people we’ve seen speaking out lately, from all across the political spectrum,” Price said. “Young people are realizing that their voice matters, that there’s no reason to wait until we’re our parents’ age to get involved and that we can make real change if we get out to the polls and let our elected officials know that we don’t like what they’re doing.”