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Analysis: Register to Vote and Give Yourself an Option for Election Day

Registering to vote doesn't mean you have to vote, but not registering means you can't. Tuesday is the deadline in Texas.

Students listen to Secretary Cascos during a UT undergraduate course about what they need to know to vote in November.

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You know the unofficial rules: Nonvoters don't count. They're just noise. When politicians ignore them, nothing happens. As long as nobody stirs the majority of Texas adults who don’t vote, they are — politically speaking — a big fat nonfactor.

That leads to this final notice: Tuesday is the last day Texans can register to vote. Early in-person voting starts on Oct. 24 —two weeks from now.

For most people, voting goes in the same section of the brain that promises to diet, to exercise, to save money — to do more of those things you’re supposed to do and can’t quite get around to.

Fair enough. It’s unnecessarily burdensome, but it’s hardly impossible. Most people who really want to vote will be voting in this election.

That said, think of the inconsistency in an argument from advocates of voter photo identification — that the idea parallels IDs required in commerce, like showing your driver’s license to cash a check or, if you are suspiciously fresh of face, to order a martini.

But if you’re going to compare voting regulations to commercial regulations, maybe they ought to make it easier instead of harder to vote. If you are not registered to vote, you are not voting in the election that is four weeks away.

Just think of the howling if the layout period for buying a gun was 28 days. Voting is powerful and all that, but you can’t put a hole in something with a voter registration card. The commercial stuff requires ID, but it’s also instant. You can open the checking account and cash checks a few minutes later.

You know the unofficial rules: Nonvoters don't count. They're just noise. When politicians ignore them, nothing happens. As long as nobody stirs the majority of Texas adults who don’t vote, they are — politically speaking — a big fat non-factor.

It’s a funny flip in logic. If you think it’s crazy to have a cooling-off period before someone can buy a gun, it’s weird to require a layout period for someone who wants to vote. It’s a red-letter day in Texas — the last day before the cooling-off period for people who want to cast a vote. You know about cooling-off periods, right? If you file for divorce in Texas, you have to wait a few weeks before you can get unhitched; the idea, presumably, is to prevent people from ditching their marriages every time they get mad at their partners.

Voting works the same way. Texas is one of 37 states that don’t allow voters to register at the same time and place where they vote (three more have enacted same-day registration but don’t yet have it in place, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures).

Texas is one of 19 states that don’t allow citizens to complete their voter registration online.

Casting a vote, as Texas laws are now written, has to be a premeditated act. And you can’t get the goods on the internet. You have to sign up, in person, in advance.

Tuesday is your last chance. State officials have been boasting lately that a record number of Texans will be registered this year; if the number doesn’t top 15 million, it will be close, according to the secretary of state.

That’s to be expected in a state that also has more adults in it than ever before. Growing population, growing voter rolls. It’s reasonable to think that more people will vote in Texas than ever before, too — for the same reason.

There are no indications, however, that voter turnout — as a percentage of the population of adult citizens — is going to rise. It has remained relatively flat for years, between a low-water mark of 41 percent in 1996 and a high-water mark of 47.6 percent in 1984 and again in 1992.

In raw numbers, the highest voter turnout in a general election in Texas was 8.1 million in 2008. The next presidential year — 2012 — came in just under 8 million.

There could be a million more registered voters this year, if the predictions coming out of voting offices hold up. In 2012, according to the secretary of state, Texas had 13.6 million registered voters, or about seven of every 10 adults in the state. Only 43.7 percent of the state’s adults voted that year.

Suppose, like most Texas adults, you just aren’t planning to vote this year. Look at it this way: If you’re registered, you can always change your mind. If you’re not, you can join that long list of nonvoters the candidates ignore.

More columns from Ross Ramsey:

  • The Texas Ethics Commission regulates legislators. Legislators control the commission's laws and budget. It's a complicated relationship.
  • The state government has been stable for long enough that those in charge should get tagged with what that government is doing wrong.
  • Registering new people to vote is terrific, as far as it goes. But it doesn't mean more people are going to actually cast votes.

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State government 2016 elections State agencies Voter ID