Early voting was up from 2008, but not quite as much as the initial hype might have led to you think.
By the time early voting in Texas ended Friday night, an estimated two-thirds of those expected to cast a ballot in Harris County had already done so.
That trend is mirrored around the country and across the state. In 2008’s record-setting general election, almost half the ballots in Texas were cast early. Fort Bend County saw three-quarters of its 200,000 votes come in before Election Day. Harris and Montgomery counties were around 65 percent. If politics are changing, elections are following suit – virtually all states are reporting spiraling early balloting.
“I think it will continue to be a higher and higher number,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, whose office oversees most local elections. “The convenience of early voting brings people out. And we’ve been pushing hard on early voting this time so people can avoid the confusion of going to the wrong polling place on Election Day.”
Daily in-person voting totals in Harris County have topped 50,000 in nine of the last 12 days. The number of votes cast Friday at the county’s 37 voting locations was not available at deadline. At least two polling places were still reporting voters in line as late as 10 p.m.
Du-Ha Kim Nguyen, voter outreach coordinator at the county clerk’s office, said that as of 10 p.m., 700,019 ballots had been cast in the two weeks of early voting.
“We had people backing up traffic in some locations,” Stanart said. “Those people were determined to vote early.”
Here’s the final spreadsheet. I have the in person total at 700,216, the total that was on the daily record of early voting that Kim sends out. In 2008, the in person total was 678,312, so the in person early vote total was 3.2% higher this year. There were also 66,310 mail ballots returned out of 92,290 sent (71.8% return rate) versus 52,502 ballots returned out of 76,187 mailed in 2008 (68.9% return rate). Note that these totals are as of the end of early voting; final totals are higher because more mail ballots arrive between Friday and Tuesday.
What does this mean for final turnout? In 2008, a bit less than 62% of all ballots were cast as of the end of early voting. If the exact same percentage of ballots were cast early or via mail this year, final turnout will be over 1.24 million – 1,246,819, to be ridiculously precise. That’s pretty close to the 1.222 million Stan Stanart predicted after Day One of early voting. I could see it going either way, so let’s just call this the over/under line and leave it at that.
There are several questions to ponder as we await Tuesday. Republicans clearly drove the gain in early voting – they swarmed the polls on the first couple of days, with Democrats slowly catching up after that. There were more early ballots cast in Republican locations this year, while totals were down a notch in some Democratic locations. Straight comparisons are a bit dicey to make because there are different locations this year, but that’s the basic size of it. So the questions are:
– How much of the Republican gain in early voting was driven by behavioral change, and how much is them finding new voters? I’ve no doubt that behavioral change is a significant portion of it, but is it 50% of it or 90% of it? Putting it another way, will Republicans run out of voters on Tuesday as Democrats did in 2008?
– The same question applies to Democrats. How much of that dip in early voting is people deciding to wait till Election Day – there were some pretty ferocious lines at many EV locations in 2008, which may have convinced some people it’s no more convenient than Election Day – and how much of it is people not bothering to vote?
– President Obama won almost 53% of the vote nationally in 2008, but 51% is likely his ceiling this year. If the Harris County electorate were identical to 2008, you’d expect him to finish below 50% here, which would needless to say be bad news for other countywide Dems. But the electorate is not going to be the same, and if changes to the electorate roughly mirror the changes in demographics in Harris County, then the two effects could cancel out. This is basically another way of stating the first two questions.
– In 2008 in Harris County, President Obama underperformed the Democratic slate in certain parts of town, specifically the Latino State Rep districts and what I called the “Bubba” districts, HDs 128 and 144. He overperformed the slate in HD134. (The same dynamic was largely true at the state level – Obama underperformed in Latino and rural – mostly East Texas – areas, and overperformed in some affluent suburban areas.) What will his performance relative to the rest of the ticket look like this year? If the national polling numbers for Latinos are indicative, I’d expect Obama to do better in those areas, and I’d also expect him to do worse in the overperformance areas.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Here’s Greg‘s take. What questions do you have in mind for Tuesday based on what we’ve seen so far?