Officials in Bell and Coryell counties project voter turnout for the March 4 primary to follow its usual trend of being fairly low.
Early voting wrapped up Friday with 7,951 of Bell County’s more than 161,000 registered voters casting ballots, and 1,815 of Coryell County’s more than 33,000 registered voters weighing in.
Shawn Snyder, Bell County elections administrator, said voter turnout is always “up in the air,” but what’s on the ballot generally gauges the number of people who will voice their preference at the polls.
“(Voter turnout) is lower in gubernatorial years,” he said. “If it’s not a presidential year, it definitely
affects voter turnout. Whether there are hotly contested local races also plays a big factor.”
In the 2008 presidential primary, nearly 30 percent of registered voters in Bell County went to the polls. Snyder said he attributes the higher-than-normal turnout to former President Bill Clinton visiting the area campaigning for Hillary Clinton.
In the presidential primary in 2012, the number of voters plummeted to about 13 percent. He said the decline could be attributed to redistricting that was going on at the time.
Justin Carothers, Coryell County tax assessor, said the county’s turnout is expected to be lower than usual for a midterm election — 8 percent to 10 percent.
“There are a lot of factors that can change that. If it’s a hotly contested governor’s race, (it) drives turnout, or even a hotly contested Senate race,” he said. “This time, we don’t have any of that. All of the factors have fallen in place where turnout will be lower than usual.”
Several factors in play
Gene Whittle, Coryell County Democratic Party chairman, said he believes several factors play a role in voter turnout being low — from residents not registering to vote to apathy.
“We have a lot of potential voters who aren’t even registered, the ones who are disinterested and feel like their vote wouldn’t have any impact,” he said.
Whittle said residents also vote based on self-interest.
“People show up to the polls when they think their personal interest could be affected by the election,” he said. “The ballot is somewhat of a good indicator of what the turnout is going to be.”
Another factor could be the military presence and the community’s widely transient population, Whittle said.
“They see the presidential races as really having more of an impact on them,” he said. “As far as county or local politicians, most of them probably couldn’t care less.”
Nancy Boston, Bell County Republican Party chairwoman, said she believes presidential races have higher turnouts because of the volume of publicity they receive.
“More people know the presidential candidates because of the publicity they get on the television,” she said.
“More people are aware of who is running for president. It’s interesting that people don’t understand how important it is that they vote, and that they get to know who is running for statewide and local offices.”
Whittle said low voter turnout could have a sizable impact on an election, putting a great deal of power into the hands of a small group.
“The people who tend to vote in primaries are the real political junkies, the people who have an intense interest and tend to be on the extreme ends of the spectrum,” he said. “This has an enormous impact and the candidates know this. They want to be elected so they are going to move in the direction to which they think they have the most appeal. That’s going to be to the far right or the far left.”
Low voter turnout isn’t just a local issue, according to the Washington Post. Texas ranked 48th of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for voter turnout in 2012.
Kathryn Bradley, a Bell County deputy registrar, said there is also a challenge in getting people to register to vote.
Bradley hosts drives across the area to get residents registered and to encourage them to vote.
“The biggest challenge is to get them to come in and register, but if they would register, then they would have a voice,” she said. “That’s important.”
Contact Natalie Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7555