Voting study shows Texas turnout not much to brag about

Posted Thursday, Feb. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Topics: Texas

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The story of each election day tends to get framed by anecdotes: People leaving because the wait's too long. Inaccurate voter rolls. Campaign workers intimidating voters. Machines malfunctioning. Ballot shortages. Ballots that are interminable. And who can forget the hanging chads.

Election specialists for years have warned about flaws that threaten to undermine the credibility of elections in the United States. To do a more systematic evaluation of how well the 50 states and District of Columbia are running things, the Pew Charitable Trusts teamed with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and looked at 17 factors, including waiting times, the percentage of absentee ballots rejected and whether disabled voters ran into problems.

The study looked at 2008, a presidential-election year, and 2010, which involved mainly races for Congress and state offices. Data from the 2012 elections will be added later this year.

Wisconsin (83 percent) and North Dakota (82 percent) had by far the highest scores for 2008. For 2010, North Dakota was at the top, followed by Washington state. Mississippi was last both times.

Texas was in the middle of the pack both years, scoring 68 percent in 2008 and 66 percent in 2010. (bit.ly/UVqlO1)

Among the findings were that 21.3 percent of Texas registrations were rejected in 2008, but only 7 percent were in 2010.

In 2010, 74.8 percent of military and overseas ballots that went out weren't sent back; the figure was 30.7 percent in 2008.

More than 70 percent of eligible Texas voters register, but turnout was 54 percent in 2008 and only 32 percent in 2010.

In Wisconsin, by contrast, 73 percent voted in 2008, 52 percent in 2010.

Texas' average wait time was 12 minutes in 2008. (A 2010 figure wasn't used.)

The idea is to help state officials determine what they're doing well and what needs improving.

If a state rejects a lot of absentee ballots, for instance, that could become pivotal in a close race, so it's important to understand why it happened.

Texas leaders, too caught up in imposing barriers, should examine ways of boosting turnout, especially in nonpresidential years and among military and overseas voters.

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