The fight for Texas’ future may be up in the air.
But this year, when voters head to the polls on Election Day, the battle royale isn’t necessarily Republicans versus Democrats.
It may very well be new voters against Baby Boomers.
For decades, older voters — mainly those 65 and older — have largely determined the state’s political path, because this group of voters is the biggest and the one that traditionally can be depended on to head to the polls.
That could change this year, because the 18-29 age group has more registered voters than any other age group in Texas, a Star-Telegram analysis of state voter data shows.
But will these younger voters flex their political muscle?
Charles Williams will.
He’s an 18-year-old Western Hills High School senior who is ready to go to the polls on Election Day and cast his first ever ballot.
“Everybody has a vote. Everybody has an opinion,” Williams told the Star-Telegram between classes. “Go, vote.”
Two generations make up the group of the youngest voters — Generation Z and millennials, all of whom grew up in a technology- and social-media-drenched world, not knowing life without cellphones or Google.
But older voters traditionally have more time, desire and, quite frankly, the dedication to vote in elections.
“Voting is not convenient — it is done in person and only on certain days — and most younger voters were raised in a technological era where you can do anything online at just about any time,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.
“Younger voters need to be mobilized through various channels and that must revolve around issues of importance to them like school loans, healthcare, home ownership and jobs,” he said. “Savvy candidates will target younger voters with clever technology but (also) with honest and genuine insight into their lives.”
Each election, candidates and election officials appeal to young voters, encouraging them to head to the polls. This year is no exception.
Many say they are ready to heed the call.
Solomon Norred, a 22-year-old from Arlington who is an active campaigner, said his generation can use technology to amplify its voice.
“We now have platforms where kids can shout their opinions,” he said.
Crunching the numbers
There are 15.6 million registered voters in Texas, 3.1 million of them are between 18 and 29. That’s about 4,000 more than those who are 65 and older.
Despite their larger numbers, just a fraction of young voters actually cast ballots in the last two mid-term elections, the Star-Telegram analysis of voter data provided by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office shows.
In 2014, just 323,094 voted in the general election, compared with 1.4 million voters who were 65 and older. In 2010, only 202,929 young voters cast ballots, compared with 768,415 voters who were 65 and older.
And earlier this year, only around 60,000 young voters cast ballots in the primary election, compared with the 723,252 ballots cast by Texans who are 65 and older.
“National turnout among young voters is low in presidential elections and even lower in the midterms,” said Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, who heads the political science department at the University of North Texas in Denton. “Texas voter turnout is among the lowest in the nation, regardless of whether it is presidential or midterm.”
Generally, presidential elections tend to draw the most enthusiasm from younger voters.
“Midterms are more about who stays home than who turns out,” Eshbaugh-Soha said. “I remain skeptical and given the trends, if I were a candidate for elected office, I wouldn’t bet my campaign on young voters.
“They are just not reliable voters.”
But Benjamin Alvarez, 18, a senior at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy in Fort Worth, said he plans to break that perception. He said he won’t miss voting this election.
“It’s my first time,” Alvarez said. “I’m ready to vote. I want to practice my right as an American citizen.”
Election workers are doing everything they can think of to draw younger voters to the polls on Election Day.
High schools are doing voter registration drives to encourage 18-year-olds to vote. And state lawmakers, including state Rep. Charlie Geren, even have delivered voter registration forms to schools to help out.
Geren, R-Fort Worth, doesn’t know if younger voters will head to the polls this November.
But he wanted to do his part to help get as many registered as possible.
So he delivered voter registration forms to high schools in his district, to help principals helping to grow the number of new voters. Texas law lets high school principals serve as deputy voter registrars to help register students who will be 18 by Election Day.
“We need to try to get younger people registered so they’ll vote,” he said. “But we also need to get all people who are registered to vote.”
The popular app is sending “Register to Vote” links to the profile pages of all users over the age of 18 — and releasing a voter registration filter to help non-voting users.
Facebook is encouraging voters to turn out, even displaying a reminder to register to vote at the top of many news feeds.
And a new social short-form series, called “Be Woke,” has been launched to encourage Gen Z and millennial voters to head to the polls this year. This campaign includes a number of entertainers — from Kim Kardashian and Will.i.am to Hilary Swank and Jamie Foxx — in the effort encouraging young voters, particularly those of color, to get involved in politics.
“There is a serious problem in our country surrounding our youngest generations and involvement in the political process,” said Deon Taylor, a movie director who helped create this project that will air on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. “We hope this movement is contagious and a broader national voice is heard during future elections.”
Across the country, some are touting a #TurnoutTuesday campaign that documents weekly voter awareness efforts on social media.
Unique Stewart, 21, a junior who is the student body president at the University of North Texas at Dallas, said technology is a great tool, but many young people don’t vote because they are still trying to figure out where they stand on issues. Often, they haven’t decided if they are Democrat, Republican or Independent.
Stewart said their best voter awareness efforts combine social media with frank discussions about how issues affect friends. She said some students registered after hearing this message from immigrant classmates: “I wish somebody told me that I could have a say.”
Stewart said her generation knows they outnumber older voters, but like the experts, she too is waiting for her classmates to show up at the polls.
“We can take over the world if we want to,” Stewart said.
‘Talkin’ about my generation’
Political experts say older voters are reliable and show up to state, local and national elections. Here is a general break down of the different generations that make up the nation’s electorate.
Generation Z: Also known as Post Millennials, Digital Natives or Plurals. These young people were typically born in about 2000 or 2001. They are described as an emerging generation that is well-connected to technology, diverse and driven to help others.
Millennials: This generation is also called Generation Y or Echo Boomers. They are largely the children of baby boomers. Some experts say they were born in 1976-94, and others say they were born in 1982-2000.
Generation X: Also referred to as the MTV Generation or Slackers. This generation was typically born in 1965-80.
Baby boomers: These people are often described as being born in 1946-64. After World War II, the nation experienced a baby boom largely because couples could begin to start families after the conflict.
The Silent Generation: These people are also called the Greatest Generation.
Voter registration applications are available online; at the Tarrant County Elections Administration, 2700 Premier St.; and at subcourthouses, city halls, libraries and post offices. They must be dropped off at the election office or clearly postmarked by Oct. 9.
If you don’t know whether you’re registered to vote, check your status online at the Texas Secretary of State’s website, votetexas.gov, or by calling the local elections office at 817-831-8683.
If you are going to be out of town during early voting and on Election Day — or if you are at least 65 or disabled — you have until Oct. 26 to ask for a mail-in ballot. Applications for mail-in ballots may be downloaded from the Texas Secretary of State’s website and returned to county election officials by fax, mail or email.
To register to vote in Texas, you must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 by Election Day, mentally sound and not a convicted felon unless the sentence has been completed, including parole or probation. For new residents in the state, there’s no requirement stipulating how long you must live here before registering to vote.
Sample ballots are available online at the Tarrant County Election website. For more information, local voters may call the Tarrant County Elections Office at 817-831-8683 and voters statewide may call the Secretary of State’s Office at 1-800-252-8683.