March 01, 2008
Turnout watch: Early voting ends

As predicted, we had over 30,000 more Democratic votes cast on the last day of early voting - 33,100, to be exact, for a grand total of 170,032; 9,787 Republicans showed up to bring their final tally to 51,199 - which as we all know by now is completely unprecedented.

"It's an unprecedented primary turnout," said Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, referring to the early voting that ended Friday.

Kaufman noted that through the years the number of citizens opting to vote early has risen from less than 20 percent to more than 30 percent of the total primary vote.

"That could mean we would vote another 500,000 people on Tuesday," she said.

She added that the office is prepared for "a long night" Tuesday.

"The biggest problem facing workers at the polling places is crowd control," she said.

I'll be very interested to see how big Tuesday's turnout is. I suspect a greater proportion of people than usual shifted to voting early instead of on Election Day, but you'd have to assume it's more than half already for the original high-end estimate of 300,000 total Dems to miss the mark. I think Kaufman's 500,000 upper bound for all voters on Tuesday (which at this pace would mean 375,000 more Dems) is too high, but given what we've seen already, I'm not going to be too insistent about that.

Nick Beaudrot has revised his final statewide turnout estimate back up based on the extra-high numbers from Thursday and Friday:

The range of overall turnout is between 1.85 million at the low end (based on 2006) to 2.85 million at the high end (based on 2004)--more than John Kerry received in 2004--with the most likely figure probably around 2.4 million.

Two point four million is pretty damned impressive. Hell, one point eight is, too. That's higher than I thought it would be before it all began.

Eye on Williamson takes a look at who the voters are in his county.

The results from [Friday] are not yet available, but there's already plenty of data to analyze from the first 10 days of early voting.

2,814 voters with Republican voting histories cast ballots in the Democratic primary. They made up 15.66% of the vote. 194 voters with Democratic voting history cast ballots in the Republican primary. They were 1.89% of the R vote.

15,979 voters have no history of ever voting in a primary before 2008. They were 56.59% of the total primary vote. Those wanting to know why turnout in the primary doubled this year can look to this group for an answer. New voters made up substantially more than half the vote. Those new voters broke 74% to 26% for the Democratic primary.

To put that into perspective, consider this: More than 65% of the Democratic primary voters have no prior primary voting history. That is nearly two-thirds!

Williamson is the kind of place where voting in the GOP primary was usually required to have a say in who got elected countywide, so the fact that its level of identifiable Rs voting D is much higher than what we've seen so far in places like Dallas and Harris isn't surprising. These can be voters who have only done this once, years before, as well as those who do it regularly. As with the new-to-the-primary voters, these can be people who are changing their minds about how they identify themselves.

But since that 15% figure has come up, here's Paul Burka to put it in some perspective.

The early vote totals for Democrats continues to be phenomenal. At the end of the day on Thursday, the next to last day of early voting, here were the statewide numbers:

Democratic primary voters: 696,696
Republican primary voters: 223,631

Some numbers crunchers believe that the Democratic numbers were swelled by Republicans voting in the Democratic primary, accounting for as much as 15% of the total. So, let's subtract 15% of the voters (104,504) from the Democratic total in the state's fifteen largest counties and add them to the Republican side:

D's: 592,192
R's: 328,135

This is still a dominant performance. It is reminiscent of what Texas politics used to be like, back in the seventies and eighties. The Democrats always outvoted the Republicans in the primaries, because the contests for local offices kept conservatives in the Democratic primary. Then, in the fall, the conservatives would vote Republican. When the rural areas flipped Republican, due to the emergence of cultural issues and the appeal of Phil Gramm in rural Texas, the Democratic party went into a decline that lasted twenty years. Now the votes are in the big metro counties.

There's no reason to believe that 15% figure is anything close to accurate, of course. The evidence I've heard so far from the two biggest urban counties, Harris and Dallas, suggests that three percent is more likely. But again, having voted in, say, the 1996 GOP primary doesn't mean you're a Republican, though you'd be considered one in an accounting of "people with Republican voting histories who voted Dem this year". By the same token, it's clear that some of these no-primary-history folks are people who vote consistently Republican in the fall. And once again, the question is what their motivations were this time - mischief, Hillary hatred, a genuine change of heart, something else - and what that means for this November. The dropoff from the Presidential race to the rest of the ballot will give a small hint, but the only way to know for sure is to find and ask them. Which I hope someone does.

Burka says he'll return to the what-does-it-mean-for-the-fall question later. Professor Murray gets the jump on him.

Does this huge primary vote swing mean Texas is heading into the Democratic presidential column in 2008 for the first time since 1976? Probably not, because there are many barriers to a Democratic triumph in the Lone Star State on November 4, 2008. To mention just a few, the Democrats will likely have a number of more attractive targets nationally as they analyze the red-blue map of 2000 and 2004 - such as Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Missouri, and Nevada. Texas is also a very expensive state to contest, and without a single statewide elected Democrat to help, building a competitive electoral organization will be a daunting challenge. Plus, a goodly number of the swollen Democratic primary voters will likely shift back to their "normal" preference for Republican candidates once the exciting Hillary Clinton - Barack Obama contest is settled.

Nevertheless, the huge shift in primary voting has got to cause concern among Republican strategists. In my opinion, the 3-1 Democratic voting edge is another sign of the continuing devaluation of the GOP brand that statewide polls have been measuring since 2004. The issues that worked well for Republicans in their ascendancy to power (God/Guns/Gays) have been overshadowed by unhappiness with the progress of the war in Iraq, economic worries, and the sense that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Reflecting the emergence of issues that have not worked nearly as well for Republicans in recent years has been the declining popularity of the most visible Republican leaders in Texas, President Bush and Governor Perry. They are, of course, not on the ballot in Texas in 2008, but we will get an indirect measure of how deeply this dissatisfaction with the party that has dominated state politics for a dozen years really is in contested Texas House elections across the state this fall. Republican Speaker Tom Craddick has watched his party's 88 - 62 advantage in the House of Representatives drop to 79 - 71, meaning a net shift of five seats would give the minority Democrats a share of state power for the first time since 2002.

I agree that money is the biggest obstacle to Texas being in play in any meaningful sense, and sadly, I agree that neither campaign, despite whatever promises they may be making now, is likely to decide to spend any real cash here later on. I don't agree with those decisions, and I don't think the Democratic nominee will lack the funding to allow for spending in a state like Texas, but I don't see it happening. But I'd still like to see some polling, so a more objective appraisal can be made. We see that both Dems poll better than McCain in Harris County, with the true level of support undoubtedly being shorted by partisans of one candidate being noncommittal when the matchup features the other. Who knows what a statewide survey would reveal?

And finally, the last word goes to Michelle, who recounts her experience voting yesterday:

I hadn't planned on voting [Friday], but I am glad I did (instead of waiting until next Tuesday as I had planned). Jessica Farrar was at the voting site and I got to say hello, shake her hand and thank her. (That's my yard sign showing my support for her.) The line was really long, but it was even long by the time they closed the doors at 7. I waited in line for an hour and a half. I have never waited that long ever, not even close to that. There were all sorts of people there and everyone in line around me was very friendly, and 100% Democrats. I felt really sorry for the poll workers. They all seemed terribly tired.

They'll be tired again on Tuesday, too. Hopefully, we can all get a little sleep after that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 01, 2008 to Election 2008
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