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Lots of absentee ballots in Harris County this year

From the inbox:

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Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart announced today that over 90,000 ballots have been mailed to voters who requested to vote by mail in the November 8, 2016 General and Special Elections. The number of ballots mailed is the highest ever processed in Harris County for any election.

“The Super Bowl of Elections has kicked-off. Voters who have submitted a request to vote by mail will be receiving their ballot in the coming days. Voters should stay alert and watch their mailbox,” urged Stanart, the County’s Chief Election officer. “This initial batch of ballots includes voters who submitted a request for a mail ballot as of September 23 of this calendar year. Requests to vote by mail, which are received before the October 28 deadline, will be promptly processed and dropped in the mail for delivery.”

Voters receiving mail ballots are encouraged to vote and return the ballot without delay following these steps:
1. Use BLACK or BLUE ink to mark your choices on the ballot;
2. Place voted ballot in the Ballot Envelope and seal it;
3. Place Ballot Envelope in the enclosed pre-addressed County Clerk carrier envelope;
4. Seal carrier envelope and sign where indicated exactly as you signed the ballot by mail request;
5. Place appropriate postage on the carrier envelope.
6. Mail the carrier envelope containing your ballot early enough for receipt well before Election Day;

“There are approximately 392,000 voters in Harris County who meet the age requirement to vote by mail. I would not be surprised if the number of mail ballot requests for this election exceeds 100,000,” concluded Stanart. Texans can vote by mail if they are registered to vote and meet one of the following criteria: Away from the county of residence on Election Day and during the early voting period; Sick or disabled; 65 years of age or older on Election Day; or Confined in jail, but eligible to vote.

To find an application to vote by mail and other election information, voters may visit the Harris County Clerk’s Office election website www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

What is it I most like to do when presented with a number? Compare it to other numbers to try to put it in context. How impressive is 90,000 mail ballots? Let’s look at the most recent Presidential elections in Harris County and see for ourselves.

In 2012, there were 76,085 mail ballots returned, which was 6.3% of 1,204,167 total votes in the county.

In 2008, there were 67,612 mail ballots returned, or 5.7% of 1,188,731 total votes.

And in 2004, there were 47,619 mail ballots returned, for 4.4% of the 1,088,793 total.

Bearing in mind that Stan Stanart has estimated turnout of 1.4 million this November, 90,000 mail ballots out of 1.4 million voters would be 6.4% of the total. An absolute increase, but not a relative one. In this KHOU story, Stanart says the final total could well exceed 100,000. That would be 7.1% of 1.4 million, which is more in line with previous upticks. We’ll see where the final number lands?

Does this have any effect on the final results, even at the margins? Mail voters are generally older – everyone over the age of 65 is eligible to vote by mail – so they tend to be Republican. However, the Harris County Democratic Party has been aggressively pursuing a vote-by-mail strategy, and is touting its success in getting ballots to Democratic voters. I can’t say what that will look like this November, but I can say what it did look like in the last three Presidential Novembers:


Year   R total   D total   R Pct   D Pct
========================================
2012    43,270    31,414  57.56%  41.70%
2008    41,986    24,503  62.72%  36.60%
2004    29,926    17,010  63.36%  36.01%

All vote totals are taken from the Presidential races that year, so the R totals are (respectively) for Romney, McCain, and Bush. Democrats have made up a larger percentage of the absentee voter universe lately, but the total increase in absentee ballots has been evenly split between R and D voters. Maybe that will be different this year – we’ll have to see after the results get posted. It’s still a relatively small number of votes, so the effect would be small as well. In addition, it’s still not clear to me how many of these mail voters that the Dems have recruited are people who would have voted in person had they not been provided an absentee ballot. My guess is that the actual increase in Democratic voters is modest, but I don’t know enough to quantify that. This is what I do know. We’ll come back to this for the postmortem later.

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3 Comments

  1. brad m says:

    Kuff

    Do you have any stats on the #s of 2004, 2008, 2012 absentee ballots that were requested, but weren’t returned or received by the county clerk?

  2. Brad,

    Good question, thanks for asking it. See this post, and the spreadsheet linked in it, for the data. In 2012 and 2008, between 65 and 70% of mail ballots that were requested were actually returned; in 2004, it was less than half, but there may not have been as much of an effort to get people to return them. My wild guess is that about 70-75% of requested mail ballots will be returned this year. Which may change the calculus on all this, as right now that wouldn’t represent even an absolute increase. However, bear in mind that people can request mail ballots up till about a week before Election Day, so there’s still a lot of time for more of them to be sent out.

  3. brad m says:

    Charles,

    Thanks for the detailed information. Appreciated.

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