PolitiFact: Travis County vote registration hits 90%

Nearly every voting-eligible Travis County resident has registered to vote in advance of the November elections, a local official declared.

Bruce Elfant, the county’s tax assessor-collector and voter registrar, told reporters: “Since the 2012 election, we’ve added over 80,000 registered voters, which helps us get over our 90 percent voter registration goal,” set in January 2016.

As of Oct. 10, Elfant specified, his office had counted 713,871 registered voters, which he described as about 89.9 percent of the county’s citizens eligible to vote. At that time, Elfant said, an additional 11,000 applications had yet to be processed, and more applications would come in before the voter registration deadline of Oct. 11.

We asked Elfant to share his math.

Elfant told us that he started from a U.S. Census Bureau estimate indicating that, in 2015, the county was home to 778,077 citizens of voting age and then adjusted that figure to get to an updated estimate.

To reach the new estimate, Elfant said, he assumed the number of voting-age citizens in the county increased the same amount from 2015 to 2016 that it did from 2014 to 2015 — or by 18,551. He prorated that 18,551 figure to cover just the stretch of 2016 preceding the mid-October registration deadline, getting an estimated gain of 16,232 voting-age citizens. Elfant said he then added the partial-year estimate to the bureau’s 2015 estimate of 778,077 voting-age citizens, reaching his October 2016 estimate of 794,309 voting-age citizens.

Finally, Elfant said, he divided the 713,871 people registered to vote in the county as of mid-October into his estimate of voting-age citizens, getting the 90 percent result.

When we heard back from Elfant a couple of days later, he said the county’s tally of registered residents had reached 717,694, or 90.4 percent of voting-eligible residents by his analysis. “It is likely that 91 percent or even 92 percent are actually registered to vote, but we won’t have a final tally for another week,” Elfant told us.

To our inquiries, experts called Elfant’s methodology sound, even though he depended on estimated counts of voting-age citizens.

Brian W. Smith, a St. Edward’s University political scientist, and James Henson of the University of Texas each pointed out that the census figures employed by Elfant to reflect citizens eligible to vote are estimates, not to-the-person counts.

Smith said that outside of the government’s decennial census, “population surveys are always estimates which include a margin of error. It is not a precise measure because the population is always changing because of deaths, migration, undercounts, etc. For example, if Travis County grew at a much faster rate than the estimates, the results could be under 90 percent, but we cannot be certain,” Smith said.

That said, Smith wrote, it’s reasonable to speculate that 90 percent of eligible residents has registered because some 86 percent appear to have done so in 2014 and that was a “low salience mid-year election.”

Our ruling:

Elfant said that over 90 percent of Travis County’s eligible residents registered to vote in advance of the November 2016 elections.

We rate this claim True.

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