Previewing the upcoming Texas primaries

Welcome to the Tuesday, February 27, Brew. 

By: Ethan Sorell

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

  1. Number of incumbents in contested state legislative primaries and candidates for U.S. House districts higher in TX in 2024 than prior years
  2. State lawmakers consider voter registration changes
  3. You can make a difference—join the Ballotpedia Society today

Number of incumbents in contested state legislative primaries and candidates for U.S. House districts higher in TX in 2024 than previous years

Five states are holding primaries for congressional and state offices on March 5: Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, California, and North Carolina. Over the next five Brews, we’ll be bringing you previews of what to watch in each state.

Today we will look at Texas, which will be holding primaries for congressional, judicial, and state legislative elections next week.

State legislature

All 150 seats in the state House and 15 out of 31 seats in the state Senate are up for election this year. Texas has had a Republican trifecta since the party won control of the House in 2002. Republicans currently have an 86-64 majority in the House and a 19-11 majority in the Senate, with one vacancy.

  • A total of 411 major party candidates are running — 199 Democrats and 212 Republicans.
  • Nineteen of the seats up for election are open, meaning no incumbents are running. This guarantees that newcomers will make up at least 12% of the Legislature next year.
  • Ninety-three state legislative primaries are contested this year – 33 Democratic and 60 Republican. That’s a 3% decrease from 2022.
  • Heading into the March 5 primary, 58 incumbents —13 Democrats and 45 Republicans — face primary challenges, representing 40% of all incumbents running for re-election. This is the highest number and percentage of contested incumbents since 2014. 

The March 5 primaries are taking place in the context of two votes in 2023 that divided the House GOP caucus. One was the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton (R). The other was a vote to remove a school voucher proposal from an education bill that Gov. Greg Abbott (R) supported.  

Ballotpedia identified 34 of the 59 contested Republican races as battleground primaries. All but three of which have an incumbent running. 

  • 24 are races where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) endorsed different candidates,
  • One is a race where Abbott endorsed a challenger and Paxton made no endorsement,
  • Three are races where Paxton endorsed a challenger and Abbott made no endorsement
  • Five are races where Paxton and Abbott both endorsed the same challenger.
  • The open seat battleground primary is in a district where Paxton and Abbott endorsed the same candidate while the other candidate in the race has raised more money

U.S. House

  • One hundred sixty-four candidates are running for Texas’ 38 U.S. House districts, including 63 Democrats and 101 Republicans. That’s an average of 4.3 candidates per district, the lowest number since 2016 when an average of 3.5 candidates per district ran. There are currently 13 Democrats and 25 Republicans from Texas in the U.S. House.
  • In 2022, the first election after the number of congressional districts in Texas increased from 36 to 38, an average of 5.8 candidates per district ran. 
  • The 164 candidates running this year are also the fewest total number to run since 2016 when 127 candidates ran. There were 222 candidates in 2022.
  • Three seats are open this year. That’s the fewest since 2016 when there were two. Six seats were open in 2022 and 2020, and eight were in 2018—the decade-high.
  • In the 12th District, incumbent Kay Granger (R) is retiring from public office. Seven candidates — two Democrats and five Republicans — are running.
  • In the 26th District, incumbent Michael Burgess (R) is also retiring from public office. One Democrat and 11 Republicans are running.
  • In the 32nd District, incumbent Colin Allred (D) is running for U.S. Senate. Fourteen candidates—10 Democrats and 4 Republicans—are running, the most candidates running for a seat in Texas this year.
  • Thirty-nine primaries—16 Democratic and 23 Republican—are contested. That’s the fewest since 2016 when 33 were contested. 

Ballotpedia is covering four of those primaries as battlegrounds:

  • Texas’ 18th Congressional District (Democratic primary): Two candidates are running, incumbent Sheila Jackson Lee and former Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards. According to a poll from the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, Jackson Lee leads Edwards 43% to 38% among likely voters with a 4.6% margin of error.
  • Texas’ 23rd Congressional District (Republican primary): Five candidates are running, including incumbent Tony Gonzales, former law enforcement agent Victor Avila, businessperson Julie Clark, and firearms manufacturer and YouTube host Brandon Herrera. The Republican Party of Texas censured Gonzalez in March for his votes in support of same-sex marriage, firearm restrictions, and lack of support for a Republican-led immigration bill. Punchbowl News described the race as a “new chapter of the war between the right and the middle of the conference.”
  • Texas’ 7th Congressional District (Democratic primary): Incumbent Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and Pervez Agwar are running in the 7th District’s first election since redistricting. Fletcher is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, an organization describing itself as center-left. Agwan is a self-described progressive. According to local political analysts, redistricting is a central dynamic in the race. Now that the district is safely Democratic, the winner of the primary is likely to win the general election.
  • Texas’ 32nd Congressional District (Democratic Primary): Julie Johnson and Brian Williams lead in endorsements and fundraising in a field of 10  candidates. The winner of the November general election will replace U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, who is not running in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary.

Other highlights from the march 5 primary in Texas include:

  • Nineteen incumbents—six Democrats and 13 Republicans—are facing primary challengers this year. That’s the same as in 2022 and one more than in 2020. 
  • Three districts—the 9th, the 20th, and the 30th—are guaranteed to Democrats because no Republicans filed to run. 
  • Five are guaranteed to Republicans because no Democrats filed to run—the 1st, the 11th, the 13th, the 19th, and the 25th. 

U.S. Senate

Ballotpedia has tagged  the Democratic Senate primary as a battleground race to watch. Nine candidates are running. The candidates who lead in fundraising, endorsements, and polling are Colin Allred (D), Roland Gutierrez (D), and Carl Sherman Sr. (D). The winner of the Democratic primary will face Incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who was first elected to the Senate in 2012.

Statewide courts

Texas voters will also decide primaries for three seats on the Texas Supreme Court, three seats on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and 46 seats on the Texas Court of Appeals

Other races

Ballotpedia is covering primaries for offices in 38 U.S. House seats, 15 state Senate seats, and 150 state House seats. We are also covering municipal elections in Irving, Arlington, Garland, Laredo, Lubbock, Austin, Corpus Christi, and El Paso.  

Winners in primary elections in Texas are determined by a majority vote. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates proceed to a runoff election.

Keep reading 

State lawmakers consider voter registration changes

Ballotpedia published its first monthly report of the year on election-related legislation. This report is based on Ballotpedia’s Election Administration Legislation Tracker to deliver insights on the changing landscape of election administration. One area of legislative activity has been voter registration legislation. 

There are 370 active bills in 2024 state legislative sessions in 37 states that deal with voter registration. These bills make up more than 10% of all election-related legislation tracked by Ballotpedia this year as of Feb. 22. Of these bills, 213 were introduced since the beginning of the year, while the remainder were carried over from last year’s sessions. 

Democratic legislators have introduced the majority of voter registration bills (191) across all states, and more voter registration bills have been introduced in Democratic trifecta states than in states with Republican trifectas or divided governments.

Bills related to voter registration are classified into five distinct categories, with certain bills included in more than one grouping : 

  • Automatic voter registration (55 bills) 
  • Availability of state voter files (9)
  • Same-day/Election day registration (35)
  • Voter list maintenance (129)
  • Voter registration (236)

Moving bills

South Dakota’s SB21 was the only voter registration bill enacted this year, which makes a technical change to voter registration reporting requirements. 

Two bills have passed both chambers of a state legislature: 

  • Florida’s H7003 protects 16- and 17-year-old pre-registered voters’ information from public record requests and allows government entities to use that same information as necessary for that entity to carry out official responsibilities. The Florida House  passed  the bill 118-0 on Jan. 24. The Senate approved it 40-0 on Feb. 1.
  • Wisconsin’s AB572 requires the state’s election commission to notify a previously ineligible voter whose right to vote has been restored that they must complete a new voter registration application. The bill also makes other changes related to ineligible voters. The state Assembly passed the bill via unanimous consent on Nov. 9, 2023. The Senate approved it 22-10 on Feb. 13. 

Thirty bills have passed one state legislative chamber, including: 

  • seven in Virginia, 
  • four in West Virginia, 
  • three in New York, and, 
  • two each in Arizona, California, Indiana, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. 

Noteworthy legislation that has passed one chamber includes Indiana’s HB1264. It would add new requirements to the voter registration application process. It changes voter list maintenance procedures, allowing officials to obtain commercially available data from a credit agency to verify voter addresses. The bill passed the Indiana House 67-29 on Jan. 31. 

Voter list maintenance 

In addition to Indiana, 26 other states are considering modifying their voter list maintenance laws. 

This group includes Florida, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia — states that recently withdrew from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a multi-state voter list maintenance compact. 

Most bills in these states would create new list maintenance procedures. In Florida,  S1602 would require election officials to quarterly review voter registration rolls using data from other state agencies. Some bills seek to reverse the withdrawal from ERIC. In Virginia, HB1177, would require Virginia to re-apply to ERIC. That bill passed the House of Delegates 50-48 on Feb. 13. One other bill, California’s AB2050, would require an application to ERIC. 

Other notable list maintenance bills include Arizona’s HB2590, requiring counties to participate in a statewide voter registration database instead of operating individual county databases approved by the secretary of state. The bill passed the state’s lower chamber 39-18 on February 13. 

Keep reading 

You can make a difference—join the Ballotpedia Society today

Over the next several months, you will be reminded (with increasing frequency) that it is an election year. But as a friend of Ballotpedia, you know an even more important truth: Every year is an important election year

There’s more to ‘24 than the attention this year’s Presidential election is receiving. Ballotpedia delivers in-depth, unbiased coverage on all levels of government to the people who matter the most: voters like you. 

We know the information we provide is essential to voters and that’s why joining the Ballotpedia Society is so important. It’s a membership program made up of our monthly donors – people just like you – who drive Ballotpedia’s growth and journalism. 

Will you help voters receive top-notch information about elections at all levels of government by joining the Ballotpedia Society today?