Analysis: Hey, Texans, get out there and vote!

A voter leaves the early voting site at the Archer Courthouse Annex in Archer on Oct. 28, 2020. (Shelby Tauber For The Texas Tribune, Shelby Tauber For The Texas Tribune)

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Early voting starts on Monday, which is also Valentine's Day and the anniversary of the 2021 polar vortex that caused blackouts that killed more than 200 Texans and possibly as many as 700. Voters have a lot of things to consider when they go vote this year. This list is incomplete, but it’s a start.

The latest freeze didn't knock out the grid. It didn't completely wipe out the mosquitoes either, but that's another subject for another day. The arguments about whether the state’s electric grid is as reliable as it ought to be haven’t stopped, and they won’t until people trust that the lights and heaters will stay on in extremely cold weather.

And by the way, it’s still winter, even if we enjoy high temperatures of 70 degrees on some days. On Feb. 14, 2021, the first day the polar vortex hit the state, the high in Dallas was 31 degrees and the low was 13 degrees, according to the daily weather history at the Old Farmer’s Almanac. A week later, the high was 75 and the low was 46. In Houston last Valentine’s Day, the high was 39 and the low was 30, followed, a week later, by 68 and 46. San Antonio? A Feb. 14 high of 32 and a low of 23; on Feb. 21, it was 73 and 40.

As of this month, more than 80,000 people have died of coronavirus in Texas. The 7-day average of deaths was, as of Feb. 9, 192 per day across the state. Most Texans — 58.5% — are fully vaccinated. Hospitalizations from the virus are falling from near-record highs in January, down to more than 9,000 patients, and the number of ICU beds is increasing.

Inflation is back, but the economy is booming. The state comptroller, who was very worried about the economy when the first wave of COVID-19 came to Texas in March 2020, has been increasingly optimistic over the course of the almost two years since then. That office expects the state Legislature to return to Austin a year from now with around $24 billion in the economic stabilization fund — a savings account, more or less — and in surplus funds outside of that account.

The state had more jobs at the end of 2021 than it did before the pandemic began, and unemployment dropped to 5%. But eviction filings are among the nation’s highest, and according to AAA, the average price of a gallon of regular gas in Texas is $3.15, up from $2.18 a year ago.

Any Texas adult who isn’t prohibited by federal law can carry a handgun with no training and no license in most places in the state.

Abortion is still legal in the United States, but in Texas, a new law prohibits abortions after the initial signs of a pulse — usually around six weeks, and before many people know they’re pregnant.

Immigration and border security have always been an explosive political issue in Texas and Mexico, and a public policy problem that generates more rhetoric than practical attempts at problem-solving. It is, once again, the focus of many election campaigns, and of lawsuits between the state and federal governments. And it’s more complicated than the slogan-writers working for candidates would have you believe, but the Tribune’s reporting on immigration can shed some light.

Compared with the year before, crime rates in Texas were down 4% in 2020 — the latest numbers available from the Texas Department of Public Safety. But violent crime was up 6.6%, and the overall rate was dampened by a 4% drop in property crime. Murder rose 35.6% in 2020, according to DPS.

In spite of new legislation on the subject, much of rural Texas still doesn’t have access to the high-speed broadband internet it needs to play in the modern economy, medicine, public education, college and work.

Primary elections in Texas don’t attract nearly as many voters as general elections do, but they offer voters their best chance to pick their representatives.

Most of the seats in the Texas Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation are not competitive in the November election, thanks to redistricting done last year by the Legislature and, so far, allowed to stand by the federal courts, where the new maps are still being contested.

Many districts were intentionally drawn to favor one party or the other, effectively determining which party’s candidates will win in particular districts before voters go to the polls. That means that March primary elections and the runoffs that take place in May — where candidates face opponents from their own parties — probably offer most voters the best chance to either reelect or replace current officeholders.

New laws governing voting in Texas have made it harder to vote for many people, but it helps to know the rules in advance. Redistricting and the new political maps mean that you might not be voting for the same people in the same offices as before; do your homework.

Early voting runs through Feb. 25, and election day is Tuesday, March 1.