So far, voter turnout in Texas lags behind 2018

Through the first four days of early voting in Texas, turnout in most of the state’s largest counties is sluggish compared to the 2018 midterm elections.

In Harris County, 263,820 people have cast ballots in person or by mail. With more than 2.5 million registered voters, the total so far represents just slightly more than a 10% participation rate. That’s compared to about 305,000, or more than 13%, during the first four days of early voting in 2018.

In Dallas County, 148,367 people voted between Monday and Thursday. Dallas has more than 1.4 million registered voters, so the total there also represents a participation rate of more than 10% in the county. That’s compared to about 223,000, or nearly 17%, of voters who cast ballots during the first four days of early voting in 2018.

The trend is similar in Travis, Bexar and El Paso counties as the percentage of early voters in those areas isn’t keeping pace with four years ago. In Tarrant County, turnout is slightly more than 11%, compared to nearly 16% during the same time period in 2018. And in Bexar and El Paso counties, turnout so far this year is lagging by 2% and 7%, respectively.

(See below for a detailed break down of voter turnout in some of the state’s largest counties.)

Brian W. Smith, who teaches political science and is the associate dean of the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences at St. Edward’s University in Austin, said Democrats and Republicans will craft messages based on early turnout.

“If one party’s doing better with early-voter voters, they’re going to say, ‘Let’s keep up the momentum.’ If the other party’s not doing as well, they’re going to use it to say: ‘Early voting numbers are down. We know you’re registered, come out on Election Day,'” he said. But he added that neither party should panic based on this week’s totals.

Their anxiety could increase, however, as Texas moves closer to Election Day on Nov. 8 — especially for Democrats looking at turnout in traditionally blue strongholds.

“Their biggest worry is when they look at the countywide count, and they look at the biggest Democratic areas in the state, Harris County …Travis County [and] Dallas County,” he said. “That’s when you really start hitting the panic button, because these are areas of the state that when the voters come out to vote, they vote your way.”

Smith said one explanation for the less-than-stellar turnout so far is that voters in 2018 were more motivated by top-of-the-ticket contests.

“The Beto O’Rourke-Ted Cruz race helped drive turnout. It was the most expensive Senate race in the United States. So both parties were energized, and especially Democrats who saw this as an opportunity to unseat somebody who they didn’t like,” he said. “Also, we had Donald Trump at the top of the presidential ticket. He’s [wasn’t] running, but midyear elections are a referendum on the president. So you had both parties energized, either support Trump or oppose Trump, and that helped turnout.”

Smith said there isn’t that sort of enthusiasm from Democrats this year. At least not so far.

“This time around, it seems that we’re only having a one-sided surge. We’re seeing Republicans who are motivated against Biden, against O’Rourke. Democrats [are] still supporting the Democratic candidate, but they don’t seem to have that same level of motivation,” he said.

Despite the sluggish start, Smith said it’s too early to predict overall election participation.

“Even if early voting is down, this isn’t the only chance of voting. Of course, there’s Election Day,” he said. But he added that candidates are better served now by using their resources to urge their bases to vote rather than rehashing their campaign messages.

“The candidates are pretty much fully vetted and their issue positions are very, very clear,” he said. “Nobody is holding out at this point. So how do you win an election? It’s all about turnout. It’s doing a better job of getting your base out.”

More early voting turnout break downs

In Tarrant County, 141,681 people have cast ballots in person or by mail. With more than 1.26 million registered voters, the total so far represents a participation rate just over 11%. That’s compared to about 178,814, or about 16%, during the first four days of early voting in 2018.

In Bexar County, 144,588 people have cast ballots in person or by mail. Bexar County has 1.2 million registered voters, which breaks down to about a 12% participation rate so far. By this point in 2018, about 153,000 — or about 14% — cast ballots in the first four days of early voting.

In Travis County, 110,621 people have cast ballots in person or by mail. With more than 886,480 registered voters, the total so far represents about a 12.5% participation rate. That’s compared to 147,325, or about 19%, during the first four days of early voting in 2018.

In Collin County, 90,951 people have cast ballots in person or by mail. Collin County has more than 693,753 registered voters. That means just slightly more than 13% of voters have cast ballots so far. In 2018, about 119,114 — or about 20.5 % — voted between the first Monday and Thursday of early voting.

In Denton County, 79,474 people cast ballots in person or by mail through Thursday. With more than 606,000 registered voters, the total so far represents just slightly more than a 13% participation rate. That’s compared to about 82,914, or about 16.7%, during the first four days of early voting in 2018.

In El Paso County, 37,090 people have cast ballots in person or by mail. There are more than 506,500 registered voters in the county, meaning the total so far represents just slightly more than a 7% participation rate. During the same time period in 2018, 66,887 voters — or about 15% — cast ballots.

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Got a tip? Email Juli?n Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Juli?n on Twitter @nachoaguilar

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