October 23, 2008
Early voting Day Three: Strong and consistent

Yet another strong day of early voting, with 43,782 ballots cast in Harris County. That's up slightly from yesterday, and as before, more than double the total from same day in 2004. As you can see in the spreadsheet, it's almost exactly a 100% increase from the last election, from 63,276 to 126,394.

Will that keep up? It's a little hard to fathom, not so much from the perspective of imagination - after what we saw this March, surely that's conceivable - but from logistics. The first seven days of early voting in 2004 saw an average of 22,000 people per day, and the last five had 52,000 per day, with a high of 67,000 on the finale. Our current rate of 42,000 per day, which will probably inch up a bit by Sunday, as it did in 2004, translates from that to over 99,000 per day. Can the early voting locations really handle that? Especially if Halloween gets the 130,000 to 140,000 voters one would expect at this rate? I have no idea. I certainly don't envy the poll workers the task if that is in the cards.

And let's say that it is, and we get the 800,000 or so early votes that we're currently on track for. What will final turnout be then? I think it's safe to say in such a case that we'd have seen the vast bulk of the voting by that time. I'd probably peg the 1.2 million turnout we once projected as on the low end, but what would the high end be? I'll pull a number from the air and say 1.4 million. May as well get the crazy guesses out of my system now, before the real numbers take all the fun out of it.

Anyway. I went and voted yesterday at the Power Center, which is not only convenient to where I work by the Astrodome - just take Main/90A out to South Post Oak - but had no line at all when I arrived at lunchtime. If you're anywhere near there, and I'd include any place that can easily get to Main west of the Medical Center or the West Loop to Bellfort/South Post Oak in that definition, I highly recommend it. What has your voting experience been so far?

I should note, by the way, that partly to save time, and partly to see for myself what happens, I for the first time in my voting life selected the "Straight Democratic" button. I noticed that the eSlate filled in all of the Democratic candidates on each page, which is what I'd have had it do. I then went to one particular race and deselected the Democrat to see what would happen. That did generate a warning, and after I confirmed my action I saw that candidate's box was no longer filled in, but all the others were. That satisfied my curiosity, and made me feel a little better about the whole thing. But then I'm an IT professional and a reasonably sophisticated computer user. I was comfortable with what I was seeing, which made sense to me. Dan Wallach explains what the experience might be like for someone who isn't very computer literate. So while I'm gratified to know that the eSlate interface is better than I thought for this situation, it's still not as good as it could be.

Turns out a lot of people are also choosing the straight ticket option.

In the 2004 presidential contest, almost two-thirds of the 1.08 million voters who cast ballots in Harris County took a legal short cut. They pressed the "straight ticket" button for the Republican, Democratic or Libertarian party, voting in a single touch for their party's candidates in every contest, according to county records.

Never before in the last 30 years or more had that large a portion of the local electorate voted automatically along party lines.

This time, straight ticket voting will reach the same level or go even higher, according to experts.

Straight ticket voting does not exist in most of the nation. Texas is among 17 states that allow it. But its popularity in Harris County may stem from a unique situation.

"I think Harris County has the longest ballot in the country," University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. "Certainly it's a time-saver, if you're looking for efficiency."

Forty judgeships, from the Texas Supreme Court to a county probate court, are on the ballot in Harris County. Most voters know little or nothing about such candidates in Texas, which is one of only a few states that elect judges in partisan contests. And Harris County has the most county courts in the state, which helps create the extra-long ballot.

If you think it's long this year, wait till 2010 when all the statewide offices are up, as well as far more county judicial seats. As I've said before, I have always voted in each race, partly out of habit, and partly because I've done some ticket-splitting and deliberate undervoting. This year, the Democratic slate was sufficiently strong that I felt the need to do much less of that, so even though I was at an uncrowded location, I decided to save some time and let one button fill in all the boxes for me, then go from there. I still wound up spending a fair amount of time at the machine, as I checked and doublechecked everything, but at least I didn't get carpal tunnel syndrome from all the clicking this time.

And while I've made my rough guesses as to how the voting is going so far, I've noted that the rosters of who has voted are available, and that the people who do this for a living have a much clearer view because they have precinct and voting histories to go by. Well, Alan Bernstein tells us who some of those people are, and what they're seeing:

About two-thirds of the record-smashing, high-volume early vote in Harris County supposedly has been cast by people with a Democratic voting history.

Harvey Kronberg elaborates:

A reliable Republican source tells QR that a computer analysis of early voting in Harris County indicates that Democrats have had a very good first two days of early voting.

By matching up early voters with their primary histories, our source tells us that Democrats outvoted Republicans 2.6 to 1 on the first day of early voting and 2.4 to 1 on day 2

Want to put that in perspective? Take a look at the 2004 cumulative report from Harris County. Note that the straight ticket vote went 54.83 to 44.82 in favor of the Republicans during early voting, but only 50.85 to 48.55 on Election Day. George Bush got 55.90% of the early vote to John Kerry's 43.60%, but only 53.84% of the E-day vote to Kerry's 45.84%. Over in HD149, now-former State Rep. Talmadge Heflin won early voting by a 51.50% - 48.50% margin over now-Rep. Hubert Vo. But Vo carried Election Day by 53.58% to 46.42%, which also helped him erase a 900-vote deficit in absentee balloting. Point I'm making is simply that this is not the historic norm. If this keeps up, a lot of Republicans are going to be doing a lot of sweating a week from Tuesday.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 23, 2008 to Election 2008

Like you, I have not voted straight ticket before this election, because of some ticket-splitting and deliberate undervoting. But, for the same reasons as you, I am considering doing voting straight ticket this year.

Posted by: Kenneth Fair on October 24, 2008 11:00 AM
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