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October 27th, 2018:

Early voting Day 5: It’s been a long week (in a good way)

Did I mention it’s been busy?

Voters across the state have come out in massive numbers during the first five days of early voting, and soon, more Texans will have voted early in 2018 than in all of 2014’s early voting period, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.

The state’s five largest counties have all nearly doubled the turnout compared to the same point in 2014. By the time the polls closed Thursday, 13.2 percent of registered voters in Harris County, the state’s largest county, had voted, compared to 6.4 percent at the same time in 2014. That number comes close to the 16.4 percent voter turnout seen at the end of the fourth day of early voting in 2016, a presidential year.

The story is similar in Dallas County, which recorded a voter turnout of 16.9 percent at the end of Thursday, compared to 5.9 percent at the same point in 2014, and in Tarrant County, which recorded a voter turnout of 16 percent at the end of Thursday, compared to 7.3 percent at the same point in 2014.

In Travis County, where the Austin Fiesta Mart polling location is, Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant reported on Facebook that as of 4 p.m. Friday, 22 percent of registered voters had cast their vote. The number hovered around 7 percent at the same point back in 2014.

“After just five days of early voting, the 2018 voter turnout will likely have passed the entire Early Vote turnout for the 2010 and 2014 elections,” Elfant wrote.

Some counties — like El Paso, Williamson and Cameron — have already surpassed the overall voter turnout during the entire two-week early voting period in 2014. Overall, by the time the polls closed on Thursday, 16.3 percent of the 12.3 million registered voters in the 30 counties with the most registered voters had cast ballots.

“It’s pretty remarkable to double or triple voter turnout,” said Renée Cross, the associate director of the Hobby Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston.

[…]

Mark Jones, a fellow in political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said the long lines at polling places are “notable,” but he said that “almost any voter turnout should be above 2014.”

Jones also said it is too early to draw conclusions about whether strong early voting turnout will mean strong overall turnout. Early voting could be “cannibalizing Election Day turnout, ” he said.

“More and more people are voting early,” said Jones, who estimates that between 60 and 75 percent of registered voters will cast their vote before Election Day. “People have gotten used to it, and campaigns have been encouraging it.”

He noted that a greater proportion of voters this year will be under the age of 35.

“Beto O’Rourke has spent quite a bit of money and time targeting millennials and post-millennials with the correct belief that they support him more than any other age group,” Jones said.

I agree that some of the frenzied activity is people shifting behavior, but it’s quite a bit more than that. We’re on pace in Harris County to blow past not just the early voting totals from past years, but the final totals as well. Close to one million just in early voting remains on the table. Say it with me now: We’ve never seen anything like this before.

Here are the totals for Friday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  29,702  134,488  164,190
2014  54,300  104,099  158,399
2018  65,232  315,034  380,266

2008  40,059  220,046  260,105
2012  53,131  260,274  313,405
2016  77,445  374,679  452,124

As I expected, after the slight dip on Thursday, in person voting ticked up and was, by about 900 votes, the busiest in person day so far. We have now officially exceeded the entire final early vote total from 2014, and we have seven days of early voting to go. We haven’t even gotten to the really heavy days yet.

Omnibus polling update

One last Trib poll:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Republican Ted Cruz leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke 51 percent to 45 percent in the Texas race for the U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Libertarian Neal Dikeman was the choice of 2 percent of likely voters and another 2 percent said they would vote for someone else.

Democratic and Republican voters, as might be expected, lined up strongly behind their respective party’s candidates. But independent voters, a group that often leans to the Republicans in statewide elections, broke for O’Rourke, 51 percent to Cruz’s 39 percent.

“The major Senate candidates were trying to mobilize their partisans, without a lot of attempt to get voters to cross over. And it looks like they’ve done that,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “If you look for Republican defections to Beto O’Rourke, they’re not there. But the independents break to the Democrat instead of the Republican in that race.”

The poll of likely Texas voters was conducted before early voting in the general election began this week.

In several other races for statewide office, Republicans hold double-digit leads over their Democratic opponents.

They have Abbott up 56-37, Patrik up 53-35, and Paxton up 48-36. In these races, the Dems don’t get the independent vote like O’Rourke did, and their level of support among Dems is lower, which I will attribute to the usual cause of lower name recognition. As pollster Joshua Blank says later in the piece, the Dems voting for O’Rourke are very likely also going to vote for Lupe Valdez, Mike Collier, and Justin Nelson. A companion piece is about who is saying they will vote this year.

This post was begun before that poll was published, with the intent of capturing the other Senate race results that we’ve had in the past two to three weeks. Here they all are, from FiveThirtyEight, many of which have not been in the news.

Oct 21 – End Citizens United – Cruz 50, O’Rourke 46

Oct 18 – Ipsos – Cruz 49, O’Rourke 44

Oct 14 – Tulchin – Cruz 49, O’Rourke 45

Oct 13 – CNN/SSRS – Cruz 52, O’Rourke 45

Oct 13 – WPA – Cruz 52, O’Rourke 43

Oct 11 – Siena/NYT – Cruz 51, O’Rourke 43

Oct 5 – Emerson College – Cruz 47, O’Rourke 42

There are also the Quinnipiac poll that had Cruz up 54-45, and the CBS/YouGov poll that had Cruz up 50-44. All of these are Likely Voter polls. FiveThirtyEight ran everything through their algorithms and came up with an aggregate 5.8 point lead for Cruz, though their forecast for the actual vote share is 51.8 to 46.6, or a 5.2 point margin. They project turnout of just under 7 million, which needless to say would shatter records for a midterm election in Texas and which our first week of early voting turnout suggests is very much in play. They give O’Rourke a 21% chance of winning. We’ll see if any of that changes as the actual voting continues.

When Ken Paxton attacks

He’s gotta be a little scared.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has started airing a statewide TV ad against his Democratic challenger, Justin Nelson, as Nelson presses to close the race with an emphasis on the indictment that has dogged the Republican incumbent for most of his first term.

Since last week, Nelson, an Austin lawyer, has been airing a TV commercial highlighting Paxton’s 2015 indictment on securities fraud charges, asking, “If Ken Paxton can’t follow the law, how can he enforce it?” Nelson has also put up billboards across the state plastered with Paxton’s mugshot.

In the new spot from Paxton, a narrator asserts Nelson is “running a negative campaign to hide his extreme liberal agenda,” portraying the Democrat as soft on illegal immigration. The half-minute commercial then contrasts Nelson with Paxton, who the narrator says “shut down the world’s largest human trafficking marketplace” — a reference to the attorney general’s role in shuttering the Dallas-based sex ads website Backpage.com.

The ad was seen airing this morning in major markets throughout the state, including Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

The anti-Nelson ad is notable for a number of reasons. Beyond U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in his blockbuster battle with Democrat Beto O’Rourke, most of Texas’ statewide officials have hardly acknowledged their Democratic opponents, let alone run TV ads against them. And Paxton has until now appeared to have kept his TV advertising positive, airing a spot touting his role in the Backpage.com investigation.

It could be an abundance of caution. Paxton believes he’s ahead, but not insurmountably so, and there’s no reason to take chances. It could be a belief that attacks must be answered, lest one look weak or lose initiative. And it could be that he’s genuinely worried. Paxton has refused to engage in any kind of political activity that isn’t all about himself or comfortably in the embrace of the Fox News wingnut universe. If he changes his tactics now, at this late date, there’s a reason for it.

Endorsement watch: City propositions

The Chron says Yes on Prop A:

Here’s the blunt truth: Voting “against” on Proposition A won’t cut your taxes. It will, however, open the door to more municipal debt.

That is why Houstonians should vote “for” Proposition A, which will reaffirm the decision they correctly made eight years ago to fund needed drainage and street improvement projects in the city by a pay-as-you-go system.

A second vote is being taken to fund the Rebuild Houston program because the Texas Supreme Court ruled a similar ballot question in 2010 was incorrectly worded. The earlier proposition asked, “Shall the City Charter of the City of Houston be amended to provide for the enhancement, improvement and ongoing renewal of Houston’s drainage and streets by creating a Dedicated Pay-As-You-Go Fund for Drainage and Streets?”

A subsequent class-action lawsuit said the ballot question should have specifically explained that city residents would be asked to pay a drainage fee through their water bills to fund those infrastructure improvements.

And No on Prop B:

If Proposition B were a referendum on our love and affection for Houston firefighters, as their union president claims, the choice would be easy. We’d back it. And so would Mayor Sylvester Turner, who was endorsed by firefighters in his mayoral campaign after decades of advocating for them. Instead, the mayor is dipping into his personal campaign funds to fight the measure on which too many influential Houstonians have remained mum.

Voters, don’t let the smoke get in your eyes.

In Prop. B, firefighters are asking for more than just appreciation. They’re asking for pay parity with police of comparable rank and seniority. They’re asking for what the mayor says amounts to a 25 percent raise that could cost the city an estimated $100 million the first year, forcing deep cuts to services and nearly 1,000 layoffs of firefighters and police.

Yes, we value firefighters. We value our kids, too. But most of us can’t go out and buy Junior a Lamborghini just because he asks for it.

And we can’t ignore that firefighters’ jobs are different from those of police. Both entail a great deal of risk, but firefighters have long been able to tailor their schedules to accommodate second jobs and businesses. Several Houston firefighters live out of state. And yes, as police point out, firefighters are allotted sleep time during their longer, 24-hour shifts.

Firefighters are asking voters for something police earned through years of hard-fought negotiations that required give and take from both sides.

I still think the ruling against the Renew Houston referendum was a screw job by the Supreme Court, but here we are. You can listen to my interview with Marty Lancton and my interview with Mayor Turner if you want to hear more about Prop B, and in the case of the Mayor, more about Prop A as well.