Declaring Texas doesn’t discriminate, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn charged Attorney General Eric Holder with partisan reasons for vowing to restore mandatory federal oversight of voting-related changes in the state.
In July, Holder said the Justice Department would sue to give the federal government a renewed watchdog role over Texas. Holder spoke after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act that for decades had required Texas and other jurisdictions to win federal preapproval before implementing changes related to voting.
Cornyn, R-Texas, said in an opinion column in the American-Statesman that minority voter turnout in Texas is already healthy. “According to a Census Bureau report, 68.2 percent of registered Hispanic voters in Texas went to the polls in the 2000 general election,” Cornyn said. “By 2012, with an additional 747,000 Hispanic Texans on the electoral roll, the rate had risen to 71.2 percent. Meanwhile, the rate for African-American Texans rose to over 86 percent in the same period – the highest among all racial groups tracked in the Census Bureau report.”
An Austin Democratic activist, Burnt Orange Report blogger Katherine Haenschen, expressed skepticism about those 2012 percentages. She urged us to look into them.
It’s no cinch to break down who voted in Texas in 2012. The state doesn’t track voters by ethnicity, and 2012 voter exit polls in the state weren’t extensive enough to generate estimates for how many Latinos and African-Americans cast ballots.
But the U.S. Census Bureau does regularly ask people whether they voted.
Cornyn’s statement traced back to a Census Bureau report in May tracking turnout in presidential elections from 1996 through 2012. It is based on the bureau’s supplemental Current Population Survey after each of those elections.
According to the survey, nearly 1.9 million of more than 2.6 million registered Hispanic voters in Texas (71.3 percent) turned out in 2012. Also, more than 1.3 million of more than 1.5 million registered African-American voters (86.2 percent) voted.
These percentages, like Cornyn’s statement, don’t represent many citizens eligible to vote who could have voted if they had registered. The survey separately indicates that 39 percent of the state’s voting-age Hispanic residents and 63 percent of such African-American citizens cast ballots.
But experts have warned that the bureau’s post-election surveys overestimate turnout because they rely on self-reporting by respondents.
“It’s the government asking if you’ve voted or registered to vote,” said Antonio Gonzalez of the William C. Velasquez Institute, which focuses on improving the level of Latino political and economic participation. “So there’s an (unquantified) exaggeration factor.”
The Pew Research Center says the bureau’s post-election surveys are “considered the best source of information on the demographics of the nation’s electorate.” But the center also noted that the latest survey overreported total 2012 voters nationally by about 4 million.
In Texas, the bureau’s survey indicates that more than 8.6 million voters cast ballots. But the Texas secretary of state’s office says only 8 million ballots were cast for president. Statewide, 59 percent of registered voters turned out.
In 2008, voter exit polls in Texas indicated that 63 percent of the November voters were white, 20 percent were Latino, 13 percent African-American and 2 percent were Asian.
Seeking more perspective, we emailed pollsters and partisan activists about Cornyn’s claim.
Democratic pollster Jeff Smith of Austin replied that his sense is the state’s voter rolls show that 47 percent of Hispanic registered voters turned out, compared with 65 percent of African-Americans and 61 percent of all Texas voters. He said he identified Hispanic voters based on matching surnames to a file of Hispanic surnames derived from the census, also using maiden names when applicable. Black voters were basically identified by another firm, he said.
Our ruling: Cornyn’s turnout statistics match the census survey, but its reliance on self-reporting tends to overestimate participation. Other counts point to lower Hispanic and African-American turnout. We rate this statement, which lacks this clarification, as Mostly True.
Statement: Says that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 71.2 percent of Hispanic registered voters in Texas and over 86 percent of African-American registered voters participated in the 2012 elections.