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Texas Republicans Push To Change Election Laws As Voters Diversify

Six people stand in line outside a brick building waiting to vote. Many are looking down at their smartphones. A sign in the foreground reads "Vote Here Vote Aqui."
LM Otero/AP
Voters line up outside the American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas waiting to cast their ballots on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

New Census data shows Texas' electorate was less white in 2020.

Republicans in the Texas Legislature are prepared to pass a series of new voting restrictions, and they're justifying it using unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.

Opponents of the bills, and some experts on voting behavior, say it is an attempt to suppress the votes of Black and brown voters — people more likely to vote for Democrats.

“In order for the Republicans to really prevent what’s coming down the road, unfortunately, they are positioning themselves to just roll it back to Jim Crow, basically,” political scientist Michael McDonald told CNN.

New voting data from the U.S. Census provide a small hint at "what’s coming down the road" in Texas.

Who Voted?

On the whole, the Lone Star State saw a significant increase in voting from 2016 to 2020. Despite a long-held belief among Democrats that Texas wasn’t a Republican state but a “low-turnout state,” every statewide Republican candidate won handily in 2020, although former President Trump had the closest presidential result since 1996.

Part of the story is that both voters of color and white voters increased their numbers over 2016.

Pieces of the Pie

The white share of the electorate declined slightly in 2020, to 57.1% from 58.9% in 2012. Hispanic voters in 2020 represented more than a quarter of all people who cast a ballot.

But the increase in Hispanic voting was not a smooth, consistent ascent. The 2016 election saw both Hispanic and Black voters decrease a bit as a share of the electorate. Asian voters, meanwhile, steadily increased their share each presidential cycle, to about 4% of the electorate in 2020.

Getting Out the Vote

One area where the trend is more consistent is in the percentage of eligible voters who actually vote in presidential elections in Texas. Hispanic, white and Asian voters all boosted their turnout rate from 2012 to 2016 and then again from 2016 to 2020.

Black voters saw a decrease in their turnout rate in 2016, but rebounded somewhat in 2020.

These charts don’t reveal an inevitable road to Democratic victory in Texas, particularly after a surprisingly strong showing by the GOP in heavily-Latino South Texas in 2020. Still, an analysis of this Census data in all states by Brookings showed white voters without a college degree occupying a decreasing share of the electorate, including in Texas. Those voters favor Republicans.

“The underlying demographics of the nation’s voter population show that Democratic-leaning voter populations are on the rise in both fast-growing and slow-growing parts of the country,” wrote William H. Frey, a senior fellow at Brookings and the study’s author.

Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.