As was the case in 2008, we saw record levels of early voting this year in Harris County.
As polls closed Friday before Tuesday’s general election, as many as 450,000 people are expected to have cast their ballots early or by mail, an amount officials say is likely to make up about 65 percent of the total, a record for Harris County in a gubernatorial contest. That would more than double the total number of early votes in 2002 and 2006.
Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman predicted that as many as 300,000 will cast their ballots Tuesday, putting overall turnout at 750,000, or about 39 percent of registered voters.
Kaufman attributed the huge early voter turnout to a “true spirit of cooperation” among voters aware of the August fire that destroyed 10,000 pieces of voting equipment. Immediately after the blaze and before she knew whether the county would be able to obtain enough electronic voting machines by Tuesday, Kaufman began imploring residents to vote early to avoid the sort of lines that could discourage turnout on Election Day.
Here’s the final daily tally for early voting. As of close of business Friday, a total of 444,648 in person and mail ballots had been cast. Mail ballots that arrive through Tuesday will still count, so that number will creep up a bit in the end.
As for turnout projections, we don’t have much history to guide us, as the County Clerk webpage only breaks out early votes for 2002 and 2006. In 2002, by my calculations 188,225 of the 652,682 votes were cast early, including mail ballots, for a total of 28.8%. In 2006, 191,533 of the 601,186 votes were cast early, for 31.9% of the total. (You can see the 2006 daily early vote tracker here.) If 65% of the votes have been cast already as the story suggests, we’ll have final turnout in the 690,000 range. For a final turnout of 750,000, that means only 60% of the votes have been cast already. My inclination is the pick the lower number, and even that may be a tad high. Let’s say the over/under is at 700,000, and as is my habit, I’ll take the under.
As for the breakdown by State Rep. districts where early votes were cast, it looks like this:
2010 last day Strong R = 41.9% Medium R = 9.1% Medium D = 16.7% Strong D = 29.4% 2010 overall Strong R = 46.0% Medium R = 9.3% Medium D = 17.4% Strong D = 25.0% Total R = 55.3% Total D = 42.4% 2006 Overall Strong R = 43.7% Medium R = 11.2% Medium D = 19.2% Strong D = 23.2% Total R = 54.9% Total D = 42.4%
In the end, it looks a lot like 2006 after a very good second week for Democrats. As before, Thursday was more Democratic than Wednesday, and Friday was more Democratic than Thursday. Moreover, the last five days of early voting saw more ballots cast – 211,552 in person for that period compared to 180,984 for the first seven days. What I’ve heard about the primary voting history suggests Dems pulled ahead of Rs by the end, but there’s a lot of people with unknown partisan history – about a quarter of the total – who have voted as well. Some fraction of that is people who were not eligible to vote in Harris County before 2009, for reasons such as being too young or not living here yet, but I’m a bit concerned about that because more people voted in the Democratic primary here in 2008 than have ever voted for a candidate of either party in a non-Presidential year before now. There’s more room for November Republicans in that total than there is for November Democrats, since so many of the latter now have a primary history. Here’s Dr. Murray’s take of how things look, which he posted before Friday’s numbers came in.
Finally, at the state level, early voting in the top 15 counties is up about 60% over 2006. Harris and Hidalgo more than doubled, Fort Bend and Montgomery nearly doubled, while El Paso and Nueces were basically flat. Don’t think this means much for final turnout, but you never know. There were 4,553,987 votes cast in the 2002 Governor’s race, and 4,399,116 such votes in 2006. I am confident this year will exceed 2006, and just on population growth should pass 2002. Let’s say 4.7 million, as a wild guess. Feel free to make your own.