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Early voting: Making history

You know the story by now. Here’s some detail to add a little pep to it.

Leaning against a weathered brick wall outside the Palm Center early voting station, Dexter Willis crossed his arms, took a deep breath and soaked up the moment.

He had cast his ballot days earlier, but felt drawn to the spot again, smiling at voters as they streamed by. He wasn’t handing out leaflets or stumping for votes, just taking a break from work to watch people potentially make history.

“Sometimes as black males in this society, we put limitations on ourselves,” said Willis, a 41-year-old cable technician for a small telecommunications company. “Seeing Barack accomplish what he’s accomplished, to me, the sky’s the limit.”

More than 220,000 people jammed polls throughout Harris County in the first week of early voting, while another 40,000 returned mail ballots so far. The total is more than double the number that participated in the first week of early voting in 2004.


Based on this week’s turnout, University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray projected 1.3 million or more people will cast ballots in Harris County this election. About 25 percent will come from black voters, he estimated, up from 18 percent four years ago.

Voting among all racial groups is up, but blacks are voting even more heavily than others, he said. More than 44,000 people had voted at predominantly black polling places by Thursday, compared to just under 20,000 in the first four days of early voting in 2004.

“It shows something about the savviness of the Obama campaign,” Murray said. “They said a long time ago they would increase black turnout across the country by 30 percent. I think it’s actually probably driving it up 40 to 50 percent.”

We’ve already discussed turnout among African-American and Hispanic voters. I keep saying it, but I’ll say it again – if what we’re seeing in early voting is more than just people shifting their behavior, then we really are on the cusp of something historic.

By the way, that 1.3 million figure would represent nearly 67% turnout in Harris County, which is pretty damn amazing. It would also suggest that unless things drop off a bit next week, we probably will have had about 60% of all votes cast by the end of early voting. That’s a bigger share than I had thought originally, but again unless things ease up, there’s no other realistic possibility.

My Google spreadsheet comparing 2004 EV turnout by location to 2008 has been updated. At this point, assuming the same trends hold, more than 300,000 people will have voted by Monday; if things are a bit heavier than that, we could see 100,000 votes just this weekend. Another 500,000 would vote next week at that pace. Hard to imagine, but then so was the turnout for the primary.

The concern is that this is just the base vote coming out, and that in the end the turnout model won’t be all that different than in previous years. Most of the Democratic vote so far has been from reliable Democrats, according to a Quorum Report story, which quoted Democratic number-cruncher Leland Beatty. Be that as it may, at least some Republicans are genuinely worried about how things have gone so far.

The campaign of U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, wasn’t exactly thrilled with the first few days of early voting.

McCaul campaign manager Jack Ladd told supporters on Wednesday night that, according to past primary history, Democrats in Harris and Travis counties outvoted Republicans two-to-one in early voting.

“This is very bad news,” McCaul campaign manager Jack Ladd said in an email to supporters. “If you think your friends are volunteering, they are not. I know I’m not going to sit down and die, and I know you will not either. There are only 12 days left, and this is not a lifelong commitment, we are asking you just give part of a day or days and help keep CD10 Republican.”

Between the extra-strength turnout in Travis County and the HCDP coordinated effort, McCaul has reason to be worried. He’s not the only one, you can be sure of that.

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