We are officially one week into early voting for the November 2023 election. Here’s how it’s been going in Harris County so far:
Year Mail Early Total
2015 21,141 61,008 82,149
2019 6,799 55,937 62,736
2023 9,284 91,676 100,960
The final EV totals from 2015 are here and the final EV totals from 2019 are here. The daily EV report is being posted online now here, but I’m still grabbing a copy each day and saving it for my purposes. The Day Seven file is here.
Before I get to my crazy theory, two points to note. One is just that Week One this year was super high volume. The difference in in-person voting is astonishing, more than making up the gap in mail ballots. Whatever else is going on, people have been turning out at a nice clip so far. And honestly, that shouldn’t be a surprise. At least four Mayoral campaigns have been advertising at some reasonably heavy level to push their voters out, and so they have been. (I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that Annie Garcia has been using that $1.5 million loan to her campaign yet, but perhaps the 8 day report will tell me something.) The campaigns for the two city propositions, the Harris County hospital bond, and several state propositions have also had visible ads. The first rule is making sure people know there’s an election, and that has been happening.
The second point is that the gap in mail ballots is unlikely to decrease. In 2015, over 43K total mail ballots were sent to voters, while this year that total is just under 21K. That’s fewer than the total number of mail ballots already returned in 2015. The ballot return rate was just under 50% at this point in 2015, and it’s a bit under 45% so far this year, so not too different. Almost 70% of mail ballots were returned in 2015 as of the end of early voting; if we match that this year, another 5-6K will arrive. All of that happening would make the final gap around 15K. The in person total has well more than made up for that as noted, but Week Two and especially the last day can get busy for in person voting, so there is some volatility.
And that brings me to my crazy theory, which honestly is pretty straightforward. One possible – indeed, I’d say likely – explanation for at least part of the increase in early voter turnout so far is simply that we have longer hours for early voting in the first week now than we did in 2015, or any year before 2018. In 2015, early voting in Week One still ran from 8 AM to 4:30 PM for Monday through Friday. It was 7 to 7 on Saturday, then 1 to 6 PM on Sunday. Now it is 7 AM to 7 PM every day except Sunday, when it is noon to 7. Just look at the EV reports that I’ve linked to above, the hours for each day are listed. Longer hours = more voters. It’s quite simple.
Does that account for all of the difference? Probably not, and there would be no way to tell for sure in any event. Does this mean that more people are shifting from Election Day to voting early, or maybe from Week 2 to Week 1? Maybe, but it’s too soon to tell. What about the fact that there are now (per the SOS) 550K more registered voters in Harris County than there were in 2015? (There were as previously noted about 150K more voters in the Harris County part of the City of Houston in November 2022 than there were in 2015; that number is likely a bit bigger now.) That surely has some effect as well. Point being, there are multiple factors here. Early voting hours are one of them. I’m sure it had some effect on the turnout so far. How much, and what it means beyond that, is not a question I can answer, at least not now. All I’m saying is, if you see reporting that talks about the level of turnout so far, these are things to keep in mind whether the story mentions them or not.