13 Investigates: Harris County areas with low turnout, flipped precincts

BySarah Rafique KTRK logo
Thursday, November 5, 2020
The Harris County areas with low minority turnout
Nearly 80,000 residents live in Harris County precincts that flipped parties. Meanwhile, some minority communities saw low turnout.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Mario Orellana didn't vote during the last presidential election. This year, though, the 24-year-old Houstonian said he stood in line for about 30 minutes to cast a ballot at a polling location near his home on Election Day.

"I had a friend that told me to go and vote," Orellana told 13 Investigates. "He was pushing me, like "oh, go make a vote, it will make a difference,' so I was like 'okay,' and I did."

More than 1.6 million Harris County residents and 11 million Texans statewide cast a ballot during the presidential race between incumbent President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Trump won Texas with 52.22% of the votes compared to Biden's 46.35%, according to the Texas Secretary of State's unofficial totals.

An overall winner hasn't been declared as some states are still counting votes as of Wednesday afternoon.

The map below details Harris County voter turnout by precinct. The darker colors mean more registered voters cast a ballot. On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.

In Texas, Biden struggled to win in some predominantly Hispanic counties in the Rio Grande Valley and along the border, leaving local Latino voters disappointed with the turnout.

"I think maybe this election was not important because they feel they're not listened to," said Gulfton-area community activist Sandra Rodriguez. "In talking to people throughout the years, a lot of Latinos who are citizens, they say people only come knocking on our doors when it's time for election, so where are they when we really need them?"

Areas with low turnout

13 Investigates analyzed voter data across Harris County and found about 125 precincts where less than half of registered voters turned out to cast a ballot. More than 70 percent of those low turnout precincts are predominately Hispanic.

"Some people just don't care about the election honestly," Orellana said. "Some Latinos don't care."

Countywide, about 67.84% of registered voters turned out this year compared to about a 61.3% voter turnout in 2016 and 62% turnout in 2012. Still, the turnout was lower in minority communities.

Overall, our analysis found just 57% of registered voters in predominately Hispanic communities across the county voted. It was just slightly better in predominantly Black communities, where 58% of registered voters turned out - compare that with predominantly white communities, where 71% of registered voters cast a ballot in the presidential election.

As the results started coming in early Tuesday night, Rodriguez, who was raised in Southwest Houston, said she was optimistic. But, that changed when she woke up Wednesday morning to see some races she hoped would turn blue stayed Republican.

"It's very disappointing. I was hopeful that this election and this year that our Latino community would be energized to see a change with everything that's been going on with immigration, with our children," Rodriguez said. "I'm a first-generation American and so (having) immigrant parents, seeing their struggles and their challenges, that would be something that would energize them."

Despite Texas' Republican vote in the presidential election, 45 precincts across Harris County flipped parties, according to an unofficial tally of votes from the county clerk's office.

INTERACTIVE: Explore the map below to see more details about the precincts that flipped parties this year. On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.

There's more than 1,000 precincts across Harris County, meaning much of the region's vote was similar to how it voted in 2016. Still, more than 78,200 voters live in precincts where the majority vote changed from Democrat to Republican or vice versa this year.

About 75% of those flipped precincts were areas where Trump received the majority of the vote in 2016, but Biden received the majority of the vote this year.

Rodriguez said this year was challenging because COVID-19 limited door-knocking and some people were working two or three jobs, so voting wasn't on the forefront of their minds. She said in order to improve the Latino vote, it is important to help those communities understand why voting is important and how the election results will directly impact them.

"That's what we missed this time around, the door-to-door, face-to-face interaction," Rodriguez said. "That was much needed because that's the only way we can connect with the community and help them understand what the issues are here. Here's this candidate and this is why you should vote."

Where are most people voting?

13 Investigates also looked at where the majority of the county's voters live.

Overall, the majority of Harris County's 1.6 million votes came from registered voters who live outside the beltway. The area outside Texas 8 Beltway had a 71% voter turnout, comprising 58% of all ballots cast.

The Harris County region between Interstate 610 and the beltway made up 29% of overall votes this year and 13% of the votes came from residents who live inside the 610 loop.

INTERACTIVE: Compare the 2020 presidential election results to the 2016 results On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.