AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The voter registration deadline on Tuesday marks an important turning point for the Texas elections.
Who turns out to vote is unlikely to decide the presidency - Mitt Romney pretty much has Texas wrapped up - but many races for the Legislature or county offices will depend on who takes the time to cast a ballot. According to the Texas secretary of state, about 4.5 million Texas Republicans voted in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.
Democrats, though, are not nearly as consistent. Only 2.8 million Democrats voted in Texas for their presidential nominee in 2004. But in 2008, more than 3.5 million Democrats turned out for President Barack Obama.
The extra 700,000 votes did not make a difference in the Texas presidential campaign, but they changed the face of the Legislature.
In 2005, Democrats held 54 out of 150 seats in the Texas House, but that number jumped to 74 seats in 2009, thanks to the bump in Democratic turnout.
In the non-presidential 2010 election, though, tea party supporters turned out in record numbers and Republicans gained a 101-vote supermajority, while many Democrats stayed home.
Thanks to redistricting, Democrats will likely gain seats in the Texas House this year, with estimates ranging from six new seats to as many as 15. How many seats the Democrats will gain depends on registration and turnout.
The number of Texans registered to vote in presidential elections has climbed since 2004, when 12.2 million people signed up for the spring primary elections. In 2008 that number increased to 12.7 million and by July 2012, about 13.2 million people had registered to vote in this year's primary runoffs.
Typically, 800,000 more people will register between the primaries and the November general election. Both Republicans and Democrats have been working hard to sign up as many supporters as they can, and the applications are pouring in. "The counties are seeing a high number of voter registration applications coming in, and we're also seeing a high volume; it looks like more than 1,000 a day," said Rich Parsons, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state.
He said there was still time to register by downloading an application from VoteTexas.gov and mailing it either to the county registrar or the secretary of state's office in Austin. Registering to vote, though, does not necessarily mean that a person will cast a ballot. In the last two presidential elections, only 58 percent of those who registered followed through.
That's why party organizers will hound those whom they register with postcards, phone calls and door knocks, to make sure their supporters vote. Early voting begins Oct. 22. The importance of registration and turnout is also why so much time and money is spent promoting or fighting new voter registration laws.
Last year the Republican-controlled Legislature passed several new laws, some of which led to civil rights lawsuits. One law required county election officials to more aggressively look for deceased voters and purge them. Some county officials and voters complained about being rushed to complete those voter purges with incomplete data and the deadline was dropped.
A group that specializes in registering people, Voting for America, filed a lawsuit to block another new law that makes it more complicated for non-profit groups to register people to vote.
Supporters said the new rules are necessary to prevent fraud, while critics accused the Legislature of trying to slow down new voter registration. That law remains in place. This year's general election will likely see more Texans vote than ever before, but the most disturbing statistic remains the percentage of Texans who don't vote, about 54 percent.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) 10/7/2012 10:31:35 AM (GMT -5:00)