Day One was not a fluke.
The first day of early voting in the state's most populous counties drew 156,417 more voters than on the kickoff day of voting four years ago.
The Secretary of State's Office has kept day-by-day voter turnout statistics for 15 counties since 1996 -- and this year's numbers are off the charts. A total of 346,688 people voted in person or through mail-in ballots that were received Monday, compared to 190,271 on Oct. 18, 2004.
Voting more than doubled in Harris County on the first day and continued to be strong Tuesday. County Clerk Beverly Kaufman reported that 43,411 people had been processed for voting Tuesday, in addition to the 39,201 who voted in person Monday.
Even in Galveston County, where election officials had to scramble to get ready for voting after Hurricane Ike, first-day balloting was up by more than 3,000.
Political pollsters began analyzing the data Tuesday as candidates began spinning it. Nearly everyone agrees it bodes well for a state that falls below the national average in voter turnout -- 56 percent in 2004 compared to 64 percent nationwide.
"There's a lot of pent-up demand for voting," said Leland Beatty, a Democratic consultant who specializes in identifying voting trends. "People who have not been interested in elections for a long time are really interested this year."
Republican pollster Mike Baselice said it's too early to say if the higher numbers of early voters will translate into a record turnout.
"We don't know if more voters are just taking advantage of the early voting opportunities that present themselves," said Baselice, adding that surveys have shown voters are more interested in this election than they were four years ago when Texan George W. Bush was at the top of the ballot.
"An open-seat race can drive more interest," he said.
As for me, I'm keeping track of the daily totals at each early voting location, along with a comparison to 2004, in this Google spreadsheet. After two days, here's how things look when we add up the numbers from each of the State Rep districts:
Tues GOP 20,910
Tues Dem 20,790
2-day GOP 39,672
2-day Dem 39,802
Tues GOP 11,144
Tues Dem 9,760
2-day GOP 21,852
2-day Dem 19,137
I still haven't voted yet, but may try it today at the Power Center, which is convenient to where I work and not as busy as some other sites. I can vote anywhere I want because I can get around easily. If you know someone who can't get around all that well but still wants to vote in person, Vote Now Houston may be able to help them:
Thanks to Vote NOW Houston, transportation challenges will not keep voters from going to the polls in Houston. The mission of Vote NOW Houston, a non-partisan organization, is to increase voter participation in the 2008 general election.
"Early voting has begun," said Robert Rugg, president of Yellow Cab. "To ensure that every voter has an opportunity to get to vote during early voting and on Election Day, Vote NOW Houston is sponsoring free Yellow Cab rides (up to $25 each way, per trip) to the voting booths."
"There are no screening criteria," said Nikki Johnson of Vote NOW Houston, "the ride is for anyone who wants to take it, and based on the response we have been getting, it appears that people who don't need it aren't taking advantage of it."
The rules of the program are simple:
- Reservations must be made through Yellow Cab's special ride-to-vote hotline at 713-428-5880 or by placing a request for service online through http://www.VoteNowHouston.com.
- Voters must vote at the polling station closest to their point of origin.
- The total fare each way, including wait time, cannot exceed $25.00. Any amount in excess of $25.00 is the responsibility of the passenger. Free fare estimates are available at http://www.yellowcabhouston.com/mapquest/mapquest_ychouston.php.