AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — While much of the country will be on pins and needles Tuesday, Texas’ ballot features none of the top statewide offices and a presidential race that likely won’t be close. Only one of 36 congressional races appears competitive, and control of the Legislature isn’t in doubt.
Yet Texas voters have shattered registration and early-voting records, even amid a nation-leading decline in the number of statewide polling stations sparked by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that weakened a key civil rights law.
Here a look at what’s at stake:
Talk of Hillary Clinton getting within striking distance of Donald Trump in Texas has evaporated down the stretch with good reason.
A Democrat hasn’t carried the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976, and Republican nominees have coasted to double-digit statewide victory every presidential election since 2000.
Tellingly, Clinton never spent valuable crunch time campaigning in Texas. And her top surrogates, including Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton, went to battleground states like North Carolina and Arizona, rather than here.
Long plagued by some of the nation’s lowest turnout rates, Texas should surpass its 2008 record of 8 million voters.
Texas has exceeded 15.1 million registered voters for the first time, with nearly a million new registrants just since the March primary. And like much of the nation, Texas smashed records for early voting turnout.
Almost 4.5 million Texas residents cast early ballots in the state’s 15 largest counties alone. That accounts for 46 percent of all registered voters statewide and exceeds the record 3.5-plus million total early votes cast before the 2008 election.
There’s been evidence nationally that Trump’s inflammatory comments about Latinos could increase Hispanic registration and voting. Demographic data isn’t collected in Texas, but an analysis by former Texas Republican Party pollster Dereck Ryan shows that 23 percent of Texas’ new registrants since March have Hispanic surnames.
What’s unknown, though, is if those are first-time voters or people who registered after moving, either within Texas or here from another state.
POLLING PLACE DROP
Texas has closed at least 400 polling stations since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key portions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. That’s more than any other state, according to a report from advocacy group Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
The high court’s ruling meant that Texas and other states with histories of racial discrimination, mostly in the South, no longer had to get pre-clearance from the federal government when changing election laws.
Texas’ Secretary of State Office tracks the number of precincts but not polling stations. But in recent years, Texas has consolidated polling places while allowing voters from anywhere in the county to cast ballots at the remaining election stations regardless of precinct.
The advocacy group’s report notes that there are many non-discriminatory reasons for shuttering polling places, including Texas’ consolidation effort. But, it also says that, since the high court ruling, there’s no process ensuring that such closures “do not discriminate against voters of color.”
Trump has suggested — without evidence — that the election may be rigged and might involve “vote flipping” in Texas. But Republican Secretary of State Carlos Cascos says there’s no evidence of vote-flipping, which generally means a correctable technical glitch on older electronic voting machines.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is deploying election monitors to 28 states, including Texas, where personnel will go to Harris, Dallas and Waller counties.
A rural area west of Houston, Waller County is where black motorist Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell after a contentious traffic stop that was caught on camera — and garnered widespread attention — last year. Democrat Cedric Watson is running to become the area’s first black sheriff.
Voting rights groups, meanwhile, say they have seen evidence of election officials posting misinformation at some polling places about Texas’ 2011 voter ID law, which was weakened by federal courts. Voters who don’t have one of seven previously required forms of photo ID can now cast a ballot by signing an affidavit, though some polling stations were found to have outdated signs listing the old voter ID rules.
A Democrat hasn’t won statewide office in Texas since 1994, the nation’s longest such political losing streak. The party’s best chance to end that is incumbent Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Lawrence Meyers, who was first elected as a Republican in 1992 but switched parties in 2013.
The entire Texas House also is up for election, and 16 of the state Senate’s 31 seats. But both chambers are expected to remain comfortably Republican-controlled.
What looks to be Texas’ only competitive congressional race is a rematch between Republican Rep. Will Hurd and former Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego in a district that sprawls from San Antonio to suburban El Paso. Gallego hopes anti-Trump sentiment will boost him among a constituency that’s nearly 70 percent Hispanic.