Teri Ables had never voted before. But in 2016, the thirtysomething automotive-parts worker from Houston made it a point to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton as a way to register her fury with the potential election of Donald Trump. Ables’s choice candidate lost, but she’s remained a diligent voter—even when it feels like Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide election in thirty years, aren’t making any headway in Texas. But this year, Ables and other anti-Trump voters are grappling with a new sentiment more powerful than anger: exhaustion.

Ables hasn’t decided yet whether she’ll cast a ballot on Election Day. “All of these really horrible candidates are getting reinstated, so what’s the point?” she questioned. It isn’t just the election of far-right Republicans—both at the statewide and local levels—that has lowered her enthusiasm. A lot of Democrats, she said, are running lackluster campaigns this year and haven’t seemed to craft concrete policy proposals to distinguish themselves from the GOP. “I don’t want to be required to vote in their favor because we share a party,” she said. 

If early voting is any indication, Ables’s potential decision to abstain is shared by many Democrats. Almost everywhere in the country, primary turnout is lower than it is for general elections, but presidential years see higher levels of voter engagement than midterm years, so you’d expect the early vote this year to be higher than it was in 2022. According to an analysis by Derek Ryan, a longtime data expert who maintained the Texas GOP’s voter file for two decades, that hasn’t been the case. Fewer than 597,000 voters statewide—a turnout rate of 3.3 percent—cast early ballots in the Democratic primary, compared with 620,107 (3.6 percent) in 2022 and 999,682 (6.2 percent) in 2020. On the GOP side, the story was different: there were a little more than 1.2 million votes cast (a 6.8 percent turnout), roughly 148,000 more than in the 2020 Republican primary. But total early turnout was lower than it was in 2020 by around 200,000 votes.

Hoping to defend the White House and flip the Senate, Democrats are trying to reassemble the same sprawling anti-Trump sentiment that propelled Joe Biden to power four years ago. But that enthusiasm might have dried up. Democrats turned out in higher numbers than Republicans in only 23 of Texas’s 254 counties, and the party only surpassed 20 percent early turnout in seven counties, per Ryan’s analysis. In three of the state’s five largest counties—Harris (Houston), Tarrant (Fort Worth), and Bexar (San Antonio)—more votes were cast in the GOP primary than in the Democratic one. 

Low engagement in a primary isn’t unusual for Texas, a famously low-turnout state. Because of gerrymandering and Democrats’ inability to compete statewide, however, the Texas primary tends to be the most consequential election in the state, when most representatives are chosen; few voters turning out during primaries leaves most of the decisions about who runs Texas to a relatively small group

Why might this year have especially low turnout? For Democratic voters, at least, the two races at the top of the ticket are somewhat uninspiring: on the presidential side, Biden, for all the concerns about his age and mental acuity, has the Democratic presidential nomination locked in. And in the Senate race, Colin Allred, the undisputed Democratic front-runner, has hinged his campaign on largely ignoring his primary competition so he can focus his resources on what’s likely to be a more competitive general election against Ted Cruz. It’s possible, too, that some Democrats are casting ballots in the GOP primary to try to prevent far-right candidates from winning. According to Ryan, about 3.9 percent of votes cast in the GOP primary this year were cast by folks who had most recently voted in a Democratic primary. (On the Democratic side, meanwhile, 4.2 percent of the votes cast were done by those who had most recently voted in a Republican primary.)

But the problem for Democrats runs deep. “It’s a pretty well-established and old story that the Democratic Party in Texas is a very weak party,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, at the University of Texas at Austin. “There are not a lot of means of ginning up turnout, however much Democrats talk about that every cycle. And to the extent that there are resources, it makes sense for a lot of those resources to be on hold until the general election while relatively low-interest primary campaigns take place.” 

Republican early voting turnout, meanwhile, looks stellar by comparison—but is still modest. Trump is coasting to the GOP nomination, and Cruz doesn’t face any notable competition. The relative enthusiasm from the conservative grassroots might be driven by a few legislative races that have become high-dollar affairs, with big-name players such as Midland oilman Tim Dunn injecting millions, mostly to try to punish lawmakers who voted in favor of the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton. From January 26 through February 24, the latest campaign finance reporting period, Governor Greg Abbott spent more than $6 million as part of his mission to elect more pliable lawmakers (see: Republicans who barely assert their independence and instead follow his will even if it flies in the face of what their constituents want). There are also generally higher stakes for voters when their party is the one with a hold on the state. “Look, if you’re a Republican voter, your party is running Texas lock, stock, and barrel,” Henson said. “So there’s bound to be more interest. And, on top of that, you’ve got a lot more efforts going on to mobilize voters in what are a large number of competitive races.” 

There’s still time for both parties to improve their turnout numbers on Tuesday, but the vote deficit accrued over the last two weeks will be tough to overcome. The excitement building in anticipation of Super Tuesday—during which one third of all delegates to the Republican and Democratic conventions will be awarded—among Republican electeds, megadonors, and political junkies everywhere is not necessarily shared by the voters here who are eligible to participate, despite the high stakes