The coronavirus pandemic is proving to be an X factor in this presidential election cycle, driving down voter registration in Texas.
Data from the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research indicates that registration was down 24% in the first seven months of this year, compared with the same period in 2016. The steepest drop occurred in the month of April when registrations plummeted 70%.
Both Democrats and Republicans have been circling Texas with voter registration drives as they eye the state’s massive cache of 38 electoral votes.
President Donald Trump has maintained a lead in state polls and the turnout at a Trump Boat Parade on Lake Travis earlier this month indicates that enthusiasm for his candidacy is at fever pitch. A flotilla of supporters turned out for the Labor Day event.
The Facebook page for the parade showed that more than 2,000 people were scheduled to attend and 5,000 more people said they were interested.
Boat owners showed up in “boats of all shapes and sizes” sporting Trump memorabilia, such as Make America Great Again flags and Trump/Pence signs, as well as American flags.
Texas has resisted passing legislation to allow residents to vote online and voter registration groups are avoiding door knocking due to fears of COVID-19. Both parties have been unable to stage large gatherings and rallies due to coronavirus restrictions where organizers would typically register thousands of supporters.
Many driver’s license offices began reopening in May after months of closure due to the pandemic. Those that remained open were operating under limited capacity.
Texas doesn’t allow residents to register when they renew their driver’s licenses online and the state also restricts absentee voting. Voters must be 65 years or older, disabled, abroad on both Election Day and during the early voting period, or jailed, according to the Texas Secretary of State Office.
Data from Democratic Party-affiliated TargetSmart in July revealed that although overall voter registration dropped significantly since the pandemic began, registration is down significantly among groups that tend to support Democrats.
An American-Statesman analysis showed that new voter registrations in Texas were down nearly 30% for the first six months of 2020 compared with a similar period in the 2016 presidential election year.
Major urban areas of Travis, Harris and Dallas counties had the worst drop off. These counties historically vote Democratic and the low rate of new voter registrations could have key political implications if the party is unable to generate a large Democratic turnout. According to the party’s internal modeling, there are an estimated 2.6 million to 3.5 million unregistered Democrats statewide.
July data showed that in Travis County, 4,326 new registrations were collected between March 1 and the end of June. Over the same period in 2016, more than twice as many people registered to vote. The data showed a June surge in registrations but the numbers were only slightly higher compared to June 2016.
The Democratic Party conducted a historic outreach to 1.2 million unregistered Texans, targeted mainly at younger voters and voters of color, from Monday, Aug. 31 to Friday, Sept. 4,
The Texas GOP’s Volunteer Engagement Project has promised to register 100,000 voters by the voter registration deadline Oct. 5. Former Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey said in May that the project was already nearing its goal, with 85,000 voters registered. Since Dickey was unseated in July by former Florida U.S. Rep. Allen West, there haven’t been any new public updates.