Experts say the recent general election may signal that generational and cultural changes are under way, including in El Paso, where the turnout rate seems fixed at less than half of the registered voters.
Nationally, Hispanics, African-Americans, women and young people helped to re-elect President Barack Obama, and in various states voters approved measures that in the past were viewed as too controversial to pass, such as same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana.
Richard Pineda, a communications professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, said that in El Paso, which is notorious for low voter turnout, those who did cast ballots also voted for change.
For example, El Paso voters overwhelmingly supported
two quality-of-life bond issues with tax implications for residents and a hotel occupancy tax increase for a new baseball stadium in Downtown.
"This reflects a sense of aspirational vision that is being driven by key leaders in the community," said Pineda, whose research focuses on politics, media, popular culture and Latinos. "People are ready for a shift. We're seeing a generational change, and that's also spurring a lot of young people to get involved in politics."
"However, we still have a lot of work ahead of us," Pineda said, "because we have a huge swath of El Pasoans that are not involved or actively engaged."
El Paso County Elections Administrator Javier Chacon said he doesn't expect the percentage of voter
turnout to change much in the future.
"People are leading busy lives, and that seems to be the main reason that people give for not voting," Chacon said. "We've had a pretty set pattern of voter turnout for general elections since 2000. We saw more voters come out in 2008, because the election dynamics were different, and we had big media voting campaigns."
A total of 174,789 El Pasoans (46 percent of registered voters) voted in last week's general election --14,330 fewer voters than in 2008. A total of 189,119 El Pasoans (49 percent) voted in 2008; 173,076 (44 percent) voted in 2004; and 142,704 (42 percent) voted in 2000.
Chacon said El Paso's population grows each year, but many new residents are immigrants who are not eligible to vote until they become U.S. citizens and youths who are not yet 18 years old.
According to the latest U.S. Census figures, El Paso County has a population of 820,790; 29.7 percent of El Pasoans are younger than 18 and 26.9 percent are foreign-born. Chacon said El Paso currently has 376,267 registered voters.
El Paso is not alone in low voter turnout, because Texas also lags behind other states, said Linda Krefting, president of the Texas League of Women Voters, a nonprofit organization that works to increase voter participation.
"The states that have consistently high voter turnout have voter-friendly election procedures, and the Texas Legislature could adopt comparable procedures," Krefting said. "Same day voter registration which allows voters to register on election day is common in states with consistently high voter turnout."
"This year, many individuals who registered to vote at Texas Department of Public Service offices under federal "motor voter" provisions found that their registrations had not been processed," she said. "Texas needs to make sure that voter registration at DPS offices is simplified and registrations are processed appropriately."
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