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EV Day 7 totals: Is this the 2008 of city elections for early voting?

EarlyVoting

One full week of early voting is in the books, and the fast pace has not let up. Here are the comps:

2013
2011
2009
2007

The seven-day totals for each:

2013 – 14,342 mail, 37,828 in person, 52,170 total
2011 – 4,340 mail, 19,751 in person, 24,091 total
2009 – 3,801 mail, 26,662 in person, 30,463 total
2007 = 3,555 mail, 15,792 in person, 19,347 total

You might reasonably think that this increase in early voting turnout will mean a higher turnout election overall. That’s certainly possible, and no matter what happens this week, I do expect higher overall turnout than either 2011 or 2007; I don’t expect higher than 2009, but possibly around the total for the 2009 runoff. What I want to suggest is that instead of a surge in overall turnout, we might just be seeing a significant shift in behavior, with more people voting early instead of voting on Election Day. Consider what the early vote/E-day vote ratios have looked like in odd-numbered years this past decade:

2003 6.4% mail, 21.5% early, 72.1% E-day
2005 3.9% mail, 22.5% early, 73.6% E-day
2007 6.5% mail, 23.2% early, 70.3% E-day
2009 5.7% mail, 29.2% early, 65.1% E-day
2011 7.5% mail, 30.7% early, 63.8% E-day

As you can see, there’s been a slow and slight increase in early voting, but the large majority of the vote has still occurred on Election Day itself. Now compare that to the same numbers for the even-numbered years:

2002 5.6% mail, 23.1% early, 70.3% E-day
2004 4.4% mail, 37.8% early, 58.8% E-day
2006 3.9% mail, 28.5% early, 67.6% E-day
2008 5.7% mail, 57.1% early, 37.2% E-day
2010 7.0% mail, 49.1% early, 43.9% E-day
2012 6.3% mail, 58.2% early, 35.5% E-day

Note the huge shift in 2008 to majority early voting, which has continued in the two subsequent elections. You may recall that this shift was perceived at the time to be a portent of things to come, which led to some irrationally exuberant predictions about final turnout. Turnout was up from the previous Presidential election, but not nearly as much as many of us thought it would be. The vast majority of the early voters were the old reliables, and the net effect was that by Election Day itself, we’d run short of people who still needed to vote.

Do I know this for sure? No, of course not. I do expect turnout will be up from 2011, but I don’t believe we’re seeing anything unexpected. One other piece of evidence I have for this belief comes from the analyses that Kyle Johnston does on the early vote rosters. Here’s the 2009 version, and the version from the first five days of 2013 EV. The first thing that stands out to me is that in 2009, 92% of the early vote overall was cast by people who had voted in at least 2 of the last 3 municipal election. For the first five EV days of 2013, it’s 90%. In other words, it’s the old reliables voting. They’re just voting earlier.

Now that may change, and if it does we’ll talk about it. Until then, that’s how I see it. Other useful tidbits from Johnston’s analysis is that so far about 70% of the total Harris County vote has come from City of Houston voters; in 2009, the figure was 72% for all early votes. In other words, non-Houston voting is up a smidge, perhaps thanks to the Astrodome, but not much. The racial breakdown of the vote has some people talking about runoff prospects in the Mayor’s race. I’ll just say that unlike city/county and past voting history, racial data is not directly available but must be derived inferentially. Doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate, just inexact. As I’ve said before, I’ll wait and see what we get when the actual numbers get published. What do you see in the numbers we have so far?

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5 Comments

  1. Greg Wythe says:

    Just doing some quick back-of-the-spreadsheet arithmetic in comparing this election to 2009:

    – Overall, the county has obviously surpassed the 2009 level: 171% of the 2009 level to be precise.

    – The Top 50 precincts in the City of Houston, however, show a very different trend: they stand at around 76% of the 2009 level.

    I haven’t dug around enough to make any conclusive pronouncements, but the disparity suggests that an overwhelming amount of the growth is coming from outside of the city. That still leaves the COH boxes to come in close to 2009 levels based if we’re just seeing some modest behavior-shifting. Some of the difference might also explained by the fact that the 2009 #s include an open race in Dist C, which adds some points to the divisor that may not be there this time around. African-American boxes are typically running in the high-50s to mid-60s. Boxes that are 90% or over are all over the map.

    There are a few boxes that have already surpassed their 2009 level and I’d expect a broader definition (say, Top 100) of COH boxes to break the 2009 level by the end of this week. But I’m not seeing anything yet to suggest a truly enormous gain for the city electorate. We might break 200k and maybe by a healthy margin. But I’m still a little skeptical of any major increased in the city electorate so far.

  2. PDiddie says:

    I just don’t place much faith in Johnston’s analysis.

    Projecting someone’s race from their name — and then their voting inclination — just seems too inexact a “science” for me (anecdotally there’s all kinds of examples; Neil Aquino as a Latino and David Robinson as an African American are two that come to mind). But the main problem with his data, as he himself notes, is that redistricting changed pretty much everything.

    Turnout is way up, and whether that is behavior modification or something else is a result we’ll just have to wait to answer. The real news is that Photo ID seems to have energized early turnout, and for that we may thank… Greg Abbott and the rest of the GOP. ;^)

  3. Steven Houston says:

    Given how the last few elections saw polling places moved around last minute and consolidated for lack of polling workers, I think a big part of the increase is simply people wanting to get it over with now rather than scramble at the last minute to find where they are “supposed” to vote. Friends in the county still speak of waiting two hours to vote last time, maybe that impacted it a bit too.

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