Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Nearly 18% of registered voters in Texas cast a ballot in the 2022 primary, with 55% voting early and 45% voting on election day. At least 18,000 mail-in votes were rejected in the counties with the most registered voters, most for failing to meet the new GOP voting law’s ID requirements. Mail-in ballots that were counted made up 7% of the early vote. This is a decline from 2020, when mail-in ballots comprised 10% of the early vote.
Historically, voter participation in midterm primary elections is dismal in Texas, with less than a quarter of registered voters casting ballots most years. This means that a vast majority of registered voters don’t participate. These figures also do not account for the eligible voters in the state that have not registered.
Overall, 176 counties out of 254 surpassed their primary turnouts in 2018. Most of these were smaller, Republican-leaning counties, and turnout was largely driven by participation in the GOP primary.
Voter enthusiasm can be a significant driver in turnout rates. Voters are also more inclined to cast their ballots when a race is more competitive. In primary elections, incumbents can make an election less competitive.
In the counties home to Texas’ most populous cities, Harris, Bexar, Dallas and Travis, turnout was around 15% of the nearly 6 million registered voters. The state’s fast-changing suburbs, which include counties that have flipped blue in recent years, saw 17% of their 3.5 million registered voters cast ballots in this primary.
Turnout in border counties was slightly lower at around 14%, which is about the same as the 2018 primary. Republican primary turnout increased in counties along the border compared with in 2018 — 4.6% versus 2.8% — though turnout in this year’s Democratic primary was still higher at 9.5%.
In the lower Rio Grande Valley, which comprises Starr, Hidalgo, Willacy and Cameron counties, the Republican primary turnout was 4% compared with 1.9% in 2018. Democratic primary participation was still higher at 9.2%.
South Texas saw competitive Republican races and heavy GOP campaigning this year as part of the GOP’s effort to flip an open seat. Counties in South Texas, which are typically Democratic strongholds, were also redrawn into more competitive districts. Congressional District 15, which includes Hidalgo County, was redrawn to include more people who voted for former President Donald Trump. Zapata County, which flipped red in the 2020 general election, was redrawn into Texas House District 31, which would have favored Trump by 25 percentage points in the 2020 election. Starr County, where Joe Biden won by only 5 percentage points, is also in HD-31.
The party that draws more voters in Texas’ open primaries is not a reliable indicator for who will win the general election in November.
“Turnout in the state for primary elections remains perpetually low. But this is true regardless of election year,” said Joshua Blank, the research director of the Texas Politics Project. “It’s not representative or indicative of what’s going to happen in the coming election cycle.”
In the 2020 presidential primary, more Democrats cast ballots than Republicans. But in November, Donald Trump won by 5.6 percentage points in Texas.
Primary voters tend to be more engaged in politics compared with the rest of the electorate, whether that involves news consumption or engagement with civic organizations, according to Blank.
Republican primary voters skew white and more conservative than the overall party, and Democratic primary voters skew whiter, more liberal and more suburban than the overall party, Blank added.
This year, Texans voted under new laws that further restrict the state’s voting process and narrow local control of elections. Counties had to follow new early voting regulations. Harris County offered 24-hour voting for one day during the 2020 general election. The new law bans such measures, restricting early voting hours to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Republicans enacted a handful of voting measures including new ID requirements and rules for voter assistance. Election administrators said they had to return thousands of vote-by-mail applications and mail-in ballots and request corrections due to new identification requirements.
Texas lawmakers redrew maps for the state House and Senate, congressional delegation and State Board of Education, locking in GOP power for the next decade. The maps dilute the voting powers of Texans of color — even though new census data shows people of color are driving population growth.
Redistricting is expected to result in less competitive races between Republicans and Democrats in November. New maps have resulted in more uncontested primary races, meaning only one major political party has a candidate.
In roughly one-third of all political seats up for election in Texas this year, primaries were the only election because one major party didn’t field a candidate. Out of 150 Texas House seats, there were no Democratic candidates for 41 seats and no Republican candidates for 27 seats. In the 31-seat Texas Senate, eight seats did not have Democratic candidates and three did not have Republican candidates. For the U.S. House, there were no Democratic candidates in six out of 38 seats.
Alexa Ura and José Luis Martínez contributed to this story.
Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Correction, March 4, 2022: An earlier version of a chart in this story showing where voters live was incorrectly labeled 2020 primary. The chart shows voter participation in the 2022 primary.