More young Texans are registering to vote. Will they actually turn out?

From left: Students Jasmine Barrera, Louis Lor and Liana Smoot register to vote with Pamela Orr at McCallum High School in Austin. (Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)

MCALLEN — Less than six weeks out from primary day in Texas, Amanda Edwards, among the leading Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate, made a campaign stop in the Rio Grande Valley, where she stressed at a small forum the importance of elevating new voices.

“We have to bring people to the table so that they’re not on the menu,” the former Houston City Council member said at the January event. “And one of the things that’s critically important is when we bring them to the table, then we have to deliver.”

It was a fitting message, given that the forum was organized not by a seasoned political organization but by a group of local high school students.

Young and Hispanic Texans turned out in record numbers for a midterm in 2018, when voters under 30 nearly doubled their vote share compared with the 2014 midterms and came close to matching participation levels from the 2016 presidential election. Among that age group, Hispanic voters made up 30% of the vote share in 2018 — a 10% increase from 2014, according to TargetSmart, a political data firm.

Now, in a year when candidates and campaigns are recalibrating and reprioritizing which Texans to reach out to because of that enthusiasm, the big question is: Will more voter registrations translate into an even higher turnout by first-time voters in 2020?

Flashes of electoral enthusiasm are cropping up across the state — at student-led civic events like the McAllen Senate forum, in growing efforts to register eligible high school students after a law aimed at boosting their participation had been largely ignored, and in the sense of urgency some students say they feel as they prepare to vote this year, many of them for the first time.

Students in McAllen, a border city whose population is 85% Hispanic, said candidates have historically overlooked the Valley’s youth. They say they want a seat at Edwards’ metaphorical table — and elected officials who will listen to them.

“Youth down here, we’re not asking for a lot,” said Jonah Riojas, the 17-year-old student who organized the McAllen forum. “We’re not asking for the impossible. We’re just asking that our voices are heard and that there’s some sort of effort or fight to make a difference.”