Texas voter turnout reaches 14% in 2023 – a two-decade high for odd year

Welcome to the Thursday, January 4th, Brew. 

By: Joe Greaney

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Texas voter turnout reaches 14% in 2023 – a two-decade high for odd year elections in the state
  2. Race for California’s U.S. Senate seat begins to take shape
  3. Are you an independent, digital-first, local newsroom? Learn about the 2024 Voter Guide Project

Texas voter turnout reaches 14% in 2023 – a two-decade high for odd year elections in the state 

Turnout at Texas’ Nov. 7 general election was the highest for an odd-year election in almost two decades. Registered voter turnout was 14.4%—the highest since 2005, when it reached 18%—and was six percentage points higher than 2021’s turnout of 8.8%. In total, more than a million additional voters cast ballots than did so in 2021, but turnout still lagged even-year elections in the state significantly.    

Voters decided on 14 constitutional amendments on Nov. 7—the most in an odd year since 2007, where there were 17 amendments on the ballot. Voters approved 13 of the 14 amendments, which would have increased the state judge retirement age from 75 to 79. The approved amendments included an increase to the homestead property tax exemption; a right to farm; a wealth tax prohibition; the creation of several state funds for conservation, water, broadband infrastructure, and energy projects; and changes to the state’s teacher retirement system.

Proposition 9, the Cost-of-Living Adjustments for Teacher Retirement System Amendment, received the highest “yes” vote with 83.7%. 

Between 1988 and 2023, the average turnout in odd-numbered year elections with constitutional amendments was 11.1%—40 percentage points lower than the average turnout at general elections in even-numbered years (51%). 

The lowest turnout for an odd-year election during this period was 5% in 2011 when voters decided on 10 constitutional amendments. The highest turnout for an odd-year election was 26% in 1991 when voters decided on 13 constitutional amendments.

Texas is one of 16 states that requires a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber—100 votes in the House and 21 votes in the Senate—during one legislative session to put an amendment on the ballot. 

Texas lawmakers—who only meet during odd-years—introduced and passed more constitutional amendments in 2023 than in other recent sessions. Last year, legislators introduced 297 constitutional amendments and passed 47 through at least one chamber. In 2021 and 2019 they introduced 218 and 216, respectively, and passed 16 and 19 through at least one chamber (see chart below). 

Texas voters decided 295 ballot measures between 1985 and 2023, approving 261 and defeating 34.

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Race for California’s U.S. Senate seat begins to take shape 

As of Jan. 2, 29 candidates are running in California’s top-two primary for U.S. Senate on March 5. The primary will determine which two candidates will run in the general election on Nov. 5, 2024.

Throughout 2024, Ballotpedia will be previewing elections we expect to have a meaningful effect on the balance of power in federal, state, and local governments or to be particularly competitive or compelling. This is our first preview of the year with more to come in the Brew. You can catch up with previous coverage of these races, and keep up with future elections here.  

In California, incumbent Laphonza Butler (D) announced on Oct. 19, 2023, that she would not run for re-election. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) appointed Butler to replace Dianne Feinstein (D), who died on Sept. 29, 2023. Butler was sworn in on Oct. 3. This will be the first open race for California’s Class I U.S. Senate seat since 1992.

The following candidates have received the most media attention: Barbara Lee (D), Katie Porter (D), Adam Schiff (D), and Steve Garvey (R). Lee, Porter, and Schiff are members of California’s congressional delegation. Garvey is a former professional baseball player. The Democratic candidates are campaigning on largely the same issues, including climate change solutions, the economy, and healthcare. Garvey’s priorities are quality-of-life issues, public safety, and education. 

In California’s top-two primary system, the two candidates who receive the highest number of votes, regardless of party, advance to the general election. The primary will determine whether there will be partisan competition in the general election, or if the race for the open seat will come down to two Democrats. 

To learn more about the additional 25 candidates running in the primary, click here.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Shira Stein and Joe Garofoli said the three Democratic candidates voted the same way 94% of the time over the past four and a half years in Congress. They differed most often on foreign policy, the military, and immigration. For example, “they had a rare moment of disunion over the surprise attack on Israel by Hamas. Schiff expressed unequivocal support for Israel while Lee called for a cease-fire and offered prayers for both Israelis and Palestinians killed. Porter stood out by taking an unusual position for a Democrat — attributing some of the blame to American inaction in Iran.”

The top-two primary is for the six-year term beginning on Jan. 3, 2025. Also on the primary ballot is a special top-two primary for the remainder of Feinstein’s term, which will last until Jan. 3, 2025. The remainder of that term will be filled by the winner of the Nov. 5 special election, held simultaneously with the general election. 

As of Jan. 2, 2024, Lee, Porter, Schiff, and Garvey are running in both the special and regular primary elections. Paul Mitchell, a Democratic strategist and pollster, said, “In a crowded field of contenders, each with their own appeal, being on both ballots could potentially pose some risk. Even a small splitting of votes because of this ballot oddity could cause a candidate to make the runoff in the special election for the remainder term, and not make the runoff in the election for the full term.”

In 2022, Sen. Alex Padilla (D), who was appointed to fill Kamala Harris‘ (D) Senate seat, ran for the remainder of Harris’ term, as well as for the new, six-year term. He won both elections on Nov. 8, 2022. 

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Are you an independent, digital-first, local newsroom? Learn about Ballotpedia’s 2024 Voter Guide Project

Applications for the 2024 Voter Guide Project are now open! We’re on a mission to help independent non-profit news organizations develop a useful, informative, and trusted sponsor-supported Voter Guide. Ballotpedia is excited to help newsrooms create a Voter Guide that serves the public interest.

We’re accepting applications from independent, digital-first, local newsrooms to help develop custom  voter guides in 2024. We are partnering with up to 20 newsrooms in 2024. Here’s a glimpse at the type of FREE support we’ll offer to newsrooms:

  • Graphic design and layout support
  • Voter Guide Sponsorship Kit – materials to help obtain sponsorship for voter guides
  • Voter Guide Implementation Toolkit and Voter Guide Development Training
  • Voter Guide best practices curated from independent newsrooms already creating stellar Voter or Election Guides
  • Candidate lists with candidate contact information
  • Planning and timeline support
  • Staged email series to support your Voter Guide content build-out
  • Effective content and distribution strategies
  • 1:1 support

Are you a local online newsroom interested in participating? Please visit here to apply today. Newsrooms who participated in 2023 are encouraged to re-apply! Application deadline, Jan. 12, 2024. 

Would you like to nominate a local online news outlet to participate?  Please reply directly to this email with the outlet’s name and website.

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