SAN ANTONIO – Growing participation among voting groups that have traditionally stayed home, including young people, have fueled a jump in registered voters in Bexar County in recent years. Election experts believe that trend will continue in 2020.
Bexar County reached a record number of registered voters — 1,131,925 — before the March primary, which began with early voting on Tuesday. The county’s voters have nearly doubled since 1992, when just 603,687 people were registered to vote here. That increase solidly outpaced population growth.
Ballooning voter participation is shown in a KSAT.com analysis of voter registration and turnout data from the Secretary of State’s Office (SOS). The numbers are based on presidential and vice-presidential votes in primaries for Bexar County.
Mark P. Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, told KSAT that Bexar County has always had “a lot of room to grow” in voter participation because a large percentage of the area’s population is made up of groups that generally vote at low rates. That includes young, Latino and undereducated people.
However, efforts from voting groups, hyperawareness of political issues among Americans and candidates that are turning out young and Latino voters like never before are changing that, Jones said.
And since Bexar County has a disproportionate share of those types of voters, the county expects to continue to see a massive increase in participation.
Bexar County elections administrator Jacque Callanen said, from her point of view, “the climate of the nation on politics” has also produced growth.
Monumental growth in 2008
The biggest jump in the last two decades was the 2008 primary, which marked the highest turnout ever for the county at 31.35%.
“There was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm,” Jones said. “That still stands as the election in the primary with the most numbers."
During the 2008 primary, 273,820 votes were cast in Bexar County, according to the SOS. John McCain and Hillary Clinton received the most votes in Bexar County during that time.
Jones said this year’s turnout isn’t expected to reach those levels.
Callanen said the department expects any election that replaces a two-term president, as in 2008 with George W. Bush, to bring in more votes.
In 2016, the last presidential primary, Bexar County logged 977,150 registered voters and about 25% actually made it to the polls, according to SOS data.
- This is the 2020 Republican March Primary ballot for Bexar County
- This is the 2020 Democratic March Primary ballot for Bexar County
Republicans, Democrats were neck-in-neck in 2016
In the last presidential primary, Republican and Democratic votes had the closest margin in Bexar County since 1992.
“The marquee battle was Cruz versus Trump in that race,” Jones said. “Most of the action was on the Republican side.”
Jones added that up until recently, elections have generally remained noncompetitive in Texas.
“Democrats think they’ll lose, and Republicans think they’ll win,” he said, but 2016′s race was “very competitive” and “very dynamic.”
The tables turned in the general election: 54.19% of votes for presidential and vice-presidential candidates were Democrat, and 40.76% were Republican.
That’s because Bexar County is still a blue county, he said, despite the hype in the Republican primary.
What’s expected in 2020′s primary
Jones said down-ballot races in 2020 are the ones worth keeping an eye one as opposed to the presidential race.
The hunt for Congressional District 23 to replace Will Hurd is among the most competitive races in the country. CD 23 has been a tug-of-war between the two major political parties for the last decade, KSAT previously reported.
Because Hurd is not seeking reelection and the race was razor-thin in 2018, Democrats remain optimistic about this seat.
Hurd has endorsed Republican candidate Tony Gonzalez, a San Antonio native and military veteran whose politics appear to align largely with Hurd’s. On the Democratic side, Gina Ortiz Jones, an Air Force veteran, appears to be the front-runner, based on the fact that she nearly won the exact same district in the midterm.
“The primaries this time around, the Democratic primary is were all the action will be,” Jones said. “The Republican primary will be crickets."
A full list of races to watch can be seen here on KSAT.