AUSTIN (KXAN) — Tuesday is Election Day in Texas, with 14 constitutional amendments on the ballot along with a handful of other local items Austin area voters will weigh in on. There are more than 17.7 million registered in Texas — yet as of the close of early voting on Friday evening, just over 1.25 million ballots were cast, marking a statewide turnout of 7.05%.
That turnout volume is slightly lower compared to previous off-year election cycles, yet still on trend for typical voting behavior, said Dr. Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edward’s University.
“When we look at the election, it’s what we call a ‘low salience election,'” he said. “There’s no real partisan issues out there. There’s no real individuals driving turnout. There isn’t a lot of media coverage that will get people excited to the polls, and there’s not a lot of other races out there, other than maybe some local races or local bond things that are really going to drive turnout.”
Voters will weigh in on 14 constitutional amendments like lawmakers’ deal to lower property taxes in Texas, broadband access expansion and cost-of-living adjustments to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
These items, Smith said, do have immediate, daily implications on residents; but with the Texas Legislature convening in odd years and the requirement of a constitutional amendment session in the November following the regular session, that means fewer voters are shaping issues that’ll impact a range of statewide residents.
“Because our legislature does meet in the off years, the odd-numbered years, we have to have the vote on those amendments as soon as possible. And unfortunately, that means having them in odd-numbers years when there’s nothing else really on the ballot — no presidential elections, no national elections, really even no statewide elections,” he said. “But these are very important elections. And in a lot of ways, they’re going to really affect your day-to-day lives and how the state works.”
That off-year election concern has led to some Texas communities to switch up their key election cycles, including Austin. City voters passed in May 2021 a proposition that moved Austin’s mayoral elections to presidential election years, which historically see the highest turnout.
“We know presidential elections are very, very high importance, high salience elections and bring out a broader group of people,” Smith said. “And that makes them more democratic. The more people that vote, the more democratic an election is.”
So, how do you drive more voter engagement in an election cycle that isn’t defined by hyper-partisan ballot items or more sensational races? That “hard sell,” as Smith put it, comes down to whether you can convince people their civic duty is enough to get them to the ballot box.
Oftentimes, divisive issues unify more people to vote, Smith said. Occasionally, you’ve seen certain proposed constitutional amendments — such as Texas’ same-sex marriage ban nearly 20 years ago, which the majority of voters approved — rally voters in off-year cycles.
But hitting registered voters where their wallets are or where their moral convictions lie is key for turnout, yet difficult to achieve when the emotional aspects of partisan identity aren’t as strongly at play.
“Especially when we look at people’s bottom line, this [current election] affects how much you’re going to pay in homestead exemptions. This is getting money for teachers, retired teachers,” he said. “So you have to try to appeal to people — not their partisanship, but their actual idea that voting is a very important thing, and these are issues that matter.”