Texas Democrats swing to register 1m new voters, seek to boost Latino vote

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After seeing record turnout for this year’s primaries and runoffs, Texas Democrats are striving for even higher numbers in the general election.

They have a large pool from which to draw.

There are an estimated 5 million people eligible to vote in Texas, but not registered. Many are Latinos and other people of color as well as young people, said Luke Warford, Texas Democratic Party director of voter expansion.

On Monday, the start of Texas Voter Registration Week, the party planned to start a weeklong voter registration blitz with the goal of connecting with 1 million unregistered voters and starting them on the process of registering.

“Voter registration is important to us and a huge part of our path to victory,” Warford said.

The party saw 1 million people turn out to vote in the Democratic runoff held last month, a historic high for a Democratic party runoff. The turnout rate of 5.8 percent for the party’s runoff was double the 2018 turnout rate.

That followed a primary in which Democratic turnout edged Republicans, who hold the major statewide elected offices in the state.

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Texas is considered a swing state in this year’s elections.

Reliably Republican for years, the presidential race is considered tight at this time, but a Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t won Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976, although Bill Clinton was able to win the White House without winning Texas.

Democrats are trying to flip several U.S. House seats controlled by Republicans this year. They also need to gain nine state legislative seats to control the House.

The state’s Latino population is growing faster than the white population and Hispanics could be the largest share of population by 2021. The state has been a majority-minority state for years.

But it is also a state where Republicans have been able to capture more than a third of votes cast by Latinos in certain races.

Latinos will be the largest racial or ethnic minority in a presidential election with 32 million eligible to vote, according to Pew Research Center. But millions of Latinos who are eligible never register or register and don’t vote.

Despite pandemic, no online registration in Texas

The pandemic has shut down many traditional ways of registering voters, like rallies and events and going door to door. Under current circumstances, the party is relying on sending text messages and many phone calls, much of that done with the help of volunteers.

Texas, however, does not have online registration, one of 11 states without it. Forms to register are available online, but once filled out have to be printed, signed and mailed in.

The system can create challenges or additional steps for people without an internet connect or a home printer or who may not spend money on stamps.

On Friday, a federal judge told the state it has until Sept. 23 to comply with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act and make it possible for people to update their voter registration online when they renew a driver’s license or move, the Austin American Statesman reported.

Democrats set up the site registertexas.com that guides people through the process. Once a form is filled out, the party sends the form to the person with a return envelope, already stamped, eliminating the need for the person to print it or obtain a stamp.

Warford said they see good results from people filling out the form and mailing it back in once it is sent to them. The party also follows up with emails and texts pestering them about getting the registration sent back in.

Warford said the party signed up to 1,500 people over two days to help make the 1 million contacts. The party said it is conducting the voter registration blitz with the Joe Biden campaign and the campaign of M.J. Hegar, who is challenging Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

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Image:  Suzanne Gamboa

Suzanne Gamboa is a national reporter for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com

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