The determining factors to voter turnout are enthusiasm and trust in free and fair elections. Enthusiasm comes from the candidate and the campaign and from the citizenry’s concerns and convictions.
Turnout is also influenced or disincentivized by difficulties accessing the polls and when there is a confusing elections administrative process, including delays in results or invalidated elections.
Texas will hold a primary runoff election July 14, but not every county will have a runoff. The issues and races in a primary runoff may have diminished in some voters’ minds, and with a pandemic, protests, and less publicity, large turnouts are not assured.
The November general election turnout will depend on how the electorate is energized by the candidates and the results of the primaries, which will be fresh on voters’ minds. If the runoffs are handled badly — ballots aren’t received, are invalidated, are lost or stolen and results are delayed — a lack of confidence in “one Texan, one vote” could affect turnout.
In Maryland, New Jersey and Georgia we’ve seen negative repercussions such as officials being asked to resign, elections invalidated, and voters feeling their vote did not matter because of issues with mail-in ballots resulting from political or administrative delays. All this can occur when a mail-in ballot process is rushed. Harris County recently started tempting that fate by sending mail-in ballots to all seniors. Some will wonder why they are receiving a ballot when they did not request one. Some may see it as an error or a new government mandate. Mistakes can be made, either in submitting or trying to vote in person after requesting a mail-in ballot and not having it present.
Confusion plus fear related to COVID-19 can equate to good intent with bad results on turnout.
No doubt both voters and official have been to a store during this time. The personal protective equipment (PPE), distancing and other solutions applied there should apply to our most important civic duty. Election policy must inspire trust in the safety of voters at the polls as well as emphasize the integrity of elections and that all legitimate votes count and are counted in a transparent and timely manner. Voters must have confidence in the electoral system that their vote will not be stolen or lost. Else, they may feel “Why bother?” with November.
County officials must follow the law and should avoid causing confusion with unprepared use of mail-in ballots. Local authorities should make available more early voting locations using the proven grocery store safety model: use adequate sanitation and PPE and do not break the confidence of voters in the system.
A rush to expand vote by mail, besides potentially violating Texas law, does not solve the turnout issue but exacerbates it, and as we have seen, inadequate preparation can cause confusion and delay in processing results. This ultimately could cause fewer people to vote, feeling their vote may be lost, stolen or not counted.