AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Nearly 30 percent more Latinos in Texas voted in November than in the 2012 election, outpacing the increase in that time for non-Latino voters, according to a state report.
The rise signals to some observers that elections will become increasingly competitive in the Lone Star State.
The share of the electorate with a Spanish surname increased to 19.4 percent in 2016 from 17.2 percent, the figures released by the Texas Legislative Council show. State officials determined the numbers using a count based on a list of surnames and the findings don't account for every Latino voter.
Latinos make up 38 percent of the Texas population but tend to vote at lower rates than other groups in Texas or Latinos in other states, the Austin American-Statesman reported (http://atxne.ws/2lHyh6G ).
Texas Democrats have long awaited a voter surge among Latinos that could break the Republican stranglehold on statewide elected offices. Democrats don't hold a single one.
"I think it shows there's a transition happening in Texas," Matt Barreto, co-founder of the polling and research firm Latino Decisions, told the newspaper. "Latino voters in Texas are becoming more engaged."
But Rice University political scientist Mark Jones was more measured, calling the increase "notable, but not dramatic," and said it mirrored jumps in past presidential elections.
"The Texas electorate becomes more Latino and less Anglo with every passing electoral cycle," Jones said. "But the increase is fueled primarily by natural demographic trends rather than by a dramatic spike in participation rates among Latinos."
Derek Ryan, a political consultant and former research director for the Texas Republican Party, said an analysis of early voting figures in 20 large counties reveals that new voters are driving the increase in Latino participation.
Lydia Camarillo, vice president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, said the turnout numbers for 2016 are higher than her group anticipated, but she said Texas has high barriers to register to vote. Camarillo said her group is pushing for legislative changes that would make registering easier, such as by allowing Texans to register to vote online, as more than 30 other states already do.
"When we ask potential voters why they didn't register, they say it's not because they didn't care, but that in most cases they don't start paying attention to elections until about 10 days out," Camarillo said.
Texas law requires voters to register at least 30 days before an election.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com