Texas Reckoning

Ruby red is the word used to convey the political leanings of Texas. With a whopping 38 Electoral votes, Texas has been considered a sure state for Republicans. It has voted for Republican presidents 11 of the past 12 elections. Both U.S. Senators and 22 of 36 (1 is vacant) U.S. Representatives are also Republican. Additionally, the state government has had the longest stretch of Republican trifecta control. However, in recent times demographical changes and political domination seem to be cajoling us to reexamine Texas’s current and future political inclinations.

Texas has a population of 29 million, which is 42% White, 40% Hispanic, 12% African American and 5% Asian. The diverse demographics makes it a Minority Majority state. Gallup poll (2017) indicates that 38% of Texans consider themselves Democratic leaning, while 41% consider themselves Republican leaning. State population growth is two and a half times the national average. From 2009 to 2019 it grew 15%. About half of the population moving into Texas is from Democratic states. The demographics, party affiliation data and left-leaning migration points to an inevitable blueward shift.

In 2016, Trump won against Hillary by nine percentage points. This was surprising, since in previous presidential elections Republican candidates had enjoyed double digit lead against their Democratic opponent. In 2018 Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke ran against Republican incumbent Senator Ted Cruz in what turned out to be the closest U.S. Senate race in recent Texas history. Senator Cruz won by just 2.6%, compared to his winning margin of 16% in 2012. The same year Democrats flipped two red districts blue. These recent statewide results suggest that maybe Texas is not as ruby red as it is portrayed, and might be gradually moving into purple territory. Democrats face an uphill battle as Republicans have complete control at the state level and have used gerrymandering and voter suppression techniques to benefit the GOP.

The U.S. House and state legislators are elected from political divisions called districts. Texas House of Representatives is made up of 150 districts. Every ten years, following the census, the district lines are redrawn. In 2011, the Republican trifecta aggressively gerrymandered legislative and congressional maps to dilute the power of the Latino and Black communities. They accomplished this by packing into heavily Democratic districts or cracking up communities over several GOP districts. These maps did not go unnoticed as they have been subject to challenges and litigation.

The 2020 election polls indicate Trump and Biden running a close race. Republican Senator Cornyn has a wider lead against Democrat Hegar. Texas voting laws are among the strictest in the country. October 5 was the last day to register to vote, one of the earliest registration deadlines in the country. Texas Governor Greg Abbott expanded the early voting period by six days because of challenges posed by the pandemic. Yet Abbott resisted push by Democratic state leaders to expand Texas strict eligibility requirements for mail-in voting. In these COVID-19 times, mail-in voting is only available to voters who cite a disability or illness, 65 plus, or will be absent from the county where they are registered. Additionally, Governor Abbot in a controversial move limited ballot drop boxes to one drop box per county. Harris county, with a population of 4.8 million, has a single drop box.

Despite hurdles, voter enthusiasm is high as Texans have come out in droves to vote. To date, 6.9 million people have voted. That’s almost 40% of total registered voters in Texas. Not only are the Presidential and US Congressional seats important, but a lot is riding on the state legislative election. With the 2020 census, district maps will be redrawn and to ensure a fair and equal democratic election it is imperative that both Democrats and Republicans be part of the process.

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