Texas Voter Turnout is Dismal. Here Are 8 Ways to Improve it.

By Becca Aaronson & Kyle Ellis, Director of Strategic Programs, Society for News Design

This year, Texas saw record highs for voter turnout in presidential primaries, more than 4.2 million voted March 1. But with about 21 percent of its citizens 18 or older voting, Texas ranked near the bottom compared with other states in overall turnout. People who don’t vote are all around you. Hell, you may not vote.

And so, The Texas Tribune and the Society for News Design hosted “Texas Turnout,” a civic social weekend on Aug. 26–28 to invent nonpartisan ways to help Texans make informed decisions at the polls.

Nearly 200 people applied for one of 40 spots in an event that was intended to be small, communal and highly collaborative. Each team was composed of individuals of varied backgrounds, including community organizers, designers, developers, journalists and students who brought unique perspective and subject-matter expertise to the effort. By the end of the weekend, #TexasTurnout was trending on Twitter in Austin, and more than 250 people watched teams’ project presentations, which were broadcasted live on Periscope.

Texas Turnout participants brainstorm ideas. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

The event leveraged a process called design thinking, which empowers teams to solve problems and test solutions in a way that is both quick and impactful — often taking less than five days. Design thinking was invented by IDEO, expanded on by the d.school at Stanford, and is utilized by companies ranging from early-stage startups to the likes of Google to promote rapid, scalable innovation.

Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos joined Dr. James Henson from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as Ross Ramsey and Alexa Ura from the Texas Tribune, as guest speakers, to provide valuable insight into the array of problems preventing would-be voters from heading to the polls.

“I think it’s important that whatever y’all are trying to do here, that it’s not a one shot deal,” said Cascos, “because voter education is perpetual.”

Watch Secretary of State Carlos Cascos’ speech at the Texas Turnout event on Aug. 26, 2016.

Those lectures — combined with the subject-matter expertise of our cohort — enabled the creation of eight projects that we believe could help increase voter turnout in Texas if realized.


Team Bouldin Creek: Laura Galos, Ashlee Peña, Dan Hill and Megan Schneider

Here/Say is a voting reminder tool that syncs with calendar applications to engage customers on issues important to their favorite local businesses. At the point of sale, customers have the opportunity to opt in for reminders via Square and are incentivized to participate via store discount.

Megan Schneider, Laura Galos and Dan Hill work on Here/Say at Texas Turnout. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

The Spark

Team South Congress: Julio Diaz, Azra Siddiqi, Cynthia Van Maneen, Shellee O’Brien and Marcos Vanetta

The Spark is a social media campaign aimed at personalizing the political and civic experience for those who are unengaged, feel disaffected or are otherwise powerless to make an impact.

Short stories of civic engagement will be shared through social media leading to our website, where readers can engage with these real encounters and learn important information specific to those stories.

Julio Diaz, Azra Siddiqi, Cynthia Van Maneen, Shellee O’Brien and Marcos Vanetta at Texas Turnout on Aug. 26, 2016. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

Serve the Vote

Team Sixth Street: Cara Gustafson, Victoria O’Dell, Marisela Salayandia, Trevor Wermund, Luke Whyte

Serve the Vote aims to incentivize business leaders in the food and beverage industry to encourage and ensure that their employees partake in early voting by giving them one paid hour off work to vote.

Cara Gustafson, Victoria O’Dell, Marisela Salayandia, Trevor Wermund and Luke Whyte work on Serve the Vote at Texas Turnout. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

Texas Voteboto

Team Rosedale: Chris Chang, Grace Chimene, Evan O’Neil, Rachel Shumaker, Judy Siegel

Texas Voteboto is a text-bot that helps registered voters in Bexar County who don’t vote, particularly college students, overcome the logistical barriers to voting. It offers tips to first-time voters and also comes in a Spanish-language version.


Team Rainey Street: Wil Nichols, Joie Pickett, Jen Udan

Text2Polls is an SMS-text service that offers logistical information on transportation, child care and other resources to help eligible voters reach the polls. The team plans to recruit users at politically neutral spaces, like food pantries, and help them register.

Wil Nichols, Joie Pickett and Jen Udan at Texas Turnout. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

Neighborhood Vote Kit

Team Silicon Hills: Angie Epley, Ashley Hiatt, Jeff Kramer, Anna Shumakevich, Monica Williams

The Neighborhood Vote Kit is a box filled with informative materials that seeks to empower community leaders to spread information about voting in their communities to establish trust in underserved communities. The information is community-specific, and the kit comes with materials for both the organizer and items to distribute to voters. Download the kit.

Spur 2 Action

Team Tarrytown: Liam Andrew, Andrea Ojeda, Zachary Price, Lorena Reyna, Carrie Stewart

Spur 2 Action is an interactive messaging service that targets voters in Bexar County, which has the greatest percentage of registered voters who don’t actually vote among Texas’ five most populous counties. The service would help people understand local, down-ballot initiatives. Spur 2 Action plans to reach voters where they’re at by advertising the service on coasters at bars focusing on traffic problems, and flyers at schools focusing on education.

Liam Andrew and Lorena Reyna at Texas Turnout. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

I Got Issues

Team Manchaca: Breanna Flores, Ryan Murphy, Megan Schneider, Leslie Taylor, Laura Yeager

I Got Issues is an online community guide that connects younger voters, like community college students, to information on down-ballot positions and issues in their district. Try the prototype

“Texas Turnout” was hosted in partnership with the Society for News Design and made possible with generous support from the Knight Foundation, Umbel, Vox Product, Statesman Media, Mighty Swell Sparkling Cocktails, and the Beer Alliance of Texas.

The Society for News Design is an international organization for media professionals and visual communicators who create news products and publications. SND community members do art direction, design, edit, report, illustrate, and write code.

The Texas Tribune is the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.