Op Ed: Texas’ Youth Voter Suppression Threatens Diversity of Future Elections

December 9, 2019 | Texas

Today marks the filing deadline for aspiring and incumbent politicians to appear on Texas’ 2020 primary ballot.

In three months, these candidates will compete for the votes of an increasingly young and diverse population. Sixty-nine percent of our young people are currently not white, and by 2022, more than 860,000 of them– the vast majority, citizens– are estimated to have turned 18. At the same time, one in three Texas voters are projected to be younger than 30. These newly eligible voters will have enormous power to help determine electoral outcomes in Texas. But as strict state policies target young and non-white voters, will young Texans really get a say in choosing who represents them?

Researchers have ranked Texas the fifth-hardest state to vote in. And a new report by the Texas office of the Children’s Defense Fund finds elected officials have systemically made it harder for young voters and voters of color to cast their ballots. For example, over the past seven years, Texas has closed more polling places than any other state. Just this past legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill ending temporary early voting locations– a move anticipated to disproportionately affect young voters. Meanwhile, Texas refuses to enforce its own high school voter registration law, but maintains one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation, hindering its college students by not accepting student IDs, and harming voters of color. For example, a 2016 study showed that Texas’ voter ID law impeded 1.5% of Dallas County voters at the polls. If 1.5% of all registered voters statewide were similarly affected, this would represent over 237,000 lost votes. Black voters were also 4.5 times more likely to encounter problems. Despite renewed civic energy around the 2018 midterms, these policies and others contributed to Texas remaining in the bottom 10 states in voter turnout.

Since 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court has found Texas in violation of the Voting Rights Act at least once a decade– rulings that still fail to reflect the full scope of the problem. In 2018, Texas was taken to court for drawing electoral districts that purposefully diluted the voting power of people of color. In a close vote, the Supreme Court upheld all but one of the maps, arguing that the plaintiff would need to prove Texas’ discriminatory intent– not effect. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote: “After years of litigation and undeniable proof of intentional discrimination, minority voters in Texas — despite constituting a majority of the population within the state — will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.”

Despite state policies, low youth voter turnout isn’t inevitable. Efforts to expand and diversify the electorate are growing—and working. When nonprofits are involved in registering new voters, those voters show up. Turnout for voters registered by nonprofits is 11 percentage points higher than that of demographically comparable voters who registered to vote independently. Nonprofit-registered voters are also more than twice as likely to be people of color, and two-and-a-half times more likely to be younger than 25.

Many politically active nonprofits in the state, like CDF – Texas, believe schools are especially well-positioned to engage eligible voters when they partner with nonprofits for statewide change – from offering free high school voter registration and quality civic education to prioritizing a culture of voting in schools and culturally-relevant student engagement strategies. Educators and activists can use our recently released guide to discover a variety of resources to join the movement. Together, we can create a state that welcomes the participation of all its residents, so on Election Days to come, our voters fully represent this young, diverse, and powerful state.


To learn more, read the 2019 Youth Vote Report.