The U.S. Census Bureau recently confirmed that Latinos now outnumber non-Hispanic whites in Texas. It’s a demographic shift that has been years in the making, and it has massive implications for the political future of the state that we’re only beginning to see.
To understand the political giant rising in Texas, it’s important to know that the Latino population is disproportionately young. Nearly a quarter of young people under 18 in America are Latino, but the numbers are even starker in Texas. More than 50% of all Texans 18 years and younger are Latino, and more than 800,000 Texas Latinos have come of voting age since 2020. These young people are the future of the electorate in the state, and their potential political influence can’t be underestimated. But it also can’t be taken for granted.
The Republican Party is well aware of the potential political power of young Latinos, who have been driving turnout in Texas since 2018. In the 2020 election, for example, Latinos aged 18 to 29 made up almost 25% of the Texas electorate. But conservatives have made little effort to appeal to these voters. Since their policies on issues like immigration, guns and reproductive rights are out of step with the interests of young Latino voters, they have instead focused on making the hurdles for them to vote even higher.
Research tells us that voting is a habit: if someone votes in one election, it substantially increases the likelihood that they’ll vote again in the future. But newly eligible voters are a blank slate that have several logistical hurdles to clear, like registering to vote and finding their polling place, even before casting their first ballot.
Republicans know this and have been using it to their advantage, making ever more brazen attempts to obstruct the path to the ballot box. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) even bragged that Texas would have voted for President Joe Biden in 2020 if his office had not blocked counties from mailing out applications for mail-in ballots to all registered voters. These actions should offend every American. Political parties can disagree on policies and priorities, but we should all be able to agree that access to the voting booth is fundamental to our democracy.
So where does this leave Latino Texans in 2024 and beyond? Democrats have a massive opportunity to build a winning coalition by implementing lessons learned in states like Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and Nevada, where Latinos have emerged as a decisive political force.
The most critical priority is protecting the right to vote in Texas. The Democratic Party and organizations like Voto Latino are currently battling it out in the courts to ensure every Texan can fully exercise their right to vote. We recently scored a big win when a federal judge ruled that portions of Texas Senate Bill 1 — which would require election officials to reject mail-in ballot applications and mail-in ballots with errors or omissions — violated the Civil Rights Act. But significant barriers to voting persist.
Texas is one of only eight states — and the largest — that doesn’t have online voter registration. The state also has a 30-day voter registration deadline before Election Day, the maximum allowed by the federal government. These rules make it more difficult for Texans to get on the voter rolls, so we are fighting for both online and same-day voter registration. We also want to guarantee mail-in ballot access and no-excuse absentee voting, which is something Texas already allows for voters aged 65 and older.
Unfortunately, the timeframes for enacting structural voter reforms like these are long, and a Latino youth in America turns 18 every 30 seconds. How can Democrats activate these young voters today and ensure they start building a voting habit in 2024 and beyond?
First, reminding young Latinos about how much Biden has already done to advance their interests will be essential to getting them registered and excited about voting. Voto Latino has found that young Latinos are extremely less enthusiastic about voting in 2024. Much of this has to do with them not being completely sold on Biden and how he has governed, even if they agree with him more than any Republican candidate.
But a closer look at the president’s record tells the real story. The Biden administration has already canceled more than $116 billion in student loan debt for 3.4 million Americans. The recently introduced Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, the most affordable student loan repayment plan ever created, will build on these efforts. The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, spearheaded by Biden and Democrats, included the most significant funding, incentives, and initiatives to fight climate change in U.S. history. It also lowered health care costs and cut prescription drug costs for millions of Americans.
These are significant accomplishments. But the work is far from over, and Democrats must align their platform and priorities with what young Latinos care about to win their votes. For example, young Latinos feel unseen and unheard in the current immigration debate around what happens at the border. Democrats should instead center the conversation around their plans for protecting both Dreamers and Strivers — the undocumented immigrants who helped keep our country afloat during the pandemic and have often spent decades paying taxes and contributing to their communities. Codifying reproductive rights has also become a major priority for young voters since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. They are also desperate for meaningful action on gun control.
By running on Biden’s accomplishments and centering their agenda around what young Latino voters care about, Democrats have a real opportunity to turn Texas blue as early as next year.
When I’m on the ground today, I get the same feeling about Texas that I had in Colorado in 2007. Plenty of people thought Voto Latino was wasting resources registering voters in a state that had voted for a Democratic presidential candidate only once since 1968. But every time I went to Colorado, I saw a deep bench of Latino political talent that was ready to organize and step up into power. I met young Latino voters who felt overlooked by their elected officials. I felt the enthusiasm to rise up and make their voices heard. Colorado flipped blue the very next year — and it has stayed blue ever since, becoming a reliable Democratic stronghold.
This is the future I envision for Texas. But turning that vision into a reality will take a concerted effort to tear down structural voting barriers and activate young Latinos. If Democrats can unite around these goals, they can build an undeniable voting coalition that will guarantee their success in 2024 and beyond.
Maria Teresa Kumar is the president and CEO of Voto Latino.