It seems like a simple question. How many people voted in Texas in 2012?
Instead, yesterday’s release of the Census Bureau’s estimates of 2012 voter turnout highlights how little we know about some pretty basic aspects of Texas elections.
According to the Census Bureau’s estimates, roughly 8,643,000 people voted in Texas.
But as the Bureau itself notes, its estimates are based on surveys and tend to overstate turnout because, well, people lie about things like not having voted - though the gap nationally has narrowed a bit in recent years.
When it comes to Texas numbers, there’s a second level of complexity.
That’s because unlike most states, Texas doesn’t report the number of votes cast but rather the number of votes cast for president (or in mid-term years, for governor). For 2012, that number was 7,993,851 compared to the Census Bureau’s estimate of 8,463,000 (a difference of 8%).
But, of course, that assumes that everyone who cast a ballot voted in the presidential (or gubernatorial) race - and we know from other states that simply isn’t true.
Typically, the difference usually isn’t great - 163,611 votes in California in 2012, for example. But, in the case of Texas, we actually don’t know a fairly basic data point. (It is possible, in cases, to get the data from individual counties - in Harris County, for example, 1.3% of voters did not vote in the 2012 presidential race. But the state doesn’t report a total for the whole state.)
And, while the difference might seem like something mostly of interest to election data nerds (ok, it probably is), it points to a bunch of other things that we also don’t know about Texas elections.
For example, how many people in Texas tried to vote (i.e., cast ballots that were rejected for one reason or another)? Or cast provisional ballots? How many mail ballots were requested by county? How many were returned? How many rejected? And for what reason? The list goes on.
And it’s not just the actual election itself. For example, how how many voter registration applications were received? How many were rejected and for what reason?
These are issues that get at the heart of how well the state is doing at administering elections.
By contrast, Colorado and a number of states now publish detailed looks at electoral performance - covering everything from military ballots to voter registration - complete with charts. And in places like Arizona, non-profit groups have begun making the data more available (see below).
How about it Texas?