Everybody loves early voting now

From the County Clerk’s office:

The Chief Election Officer of the County, Stan Stanart, announced [Monday night] that Harris County voters set a new record for voting during the first day of Early Voting in person. 47,093 persons voted on Monday, shattering the November 2008 first day total of 39,201.

“We had a record breaking first day of Early Voting,” said County Clerk Stanart. “It is obvious that our message encouraging voters to vote early and avoid the issues of determining their Election Day voting location has been heard.” Due to redistricting, the County Clerk’s office estimates about 20 percent of the Election Day polling locations for Harris County voters have changed. Voters are encouraged to vote at any of the 37 early voting locations. Locations and times can be found at www.HarrisVotes.com.

Champion Forest Baptist Church led all early voting locations with 2,657 voters, the Metropolitan Multi-Services Center had 2,556 and Cypress Top Park had 2,291. The locations which experienced the least amount of traffic include Galena Park Library with 382 voters, Ripley House with 460 and Holy Name Catholic Church with 506. “I urge voters to check www.HarrisVotes.com for their personal sample ballot, Early Voting locations, ID requirements and Election Day locations before voting,” added Stanart.

“Early voting by mail is also at an all-time high and requests for ballots have broken records for Harris County,” asserted Stanart. The Clerk’s Office has received 82,946 requests for mail ballots exceeding the 2008 record of 80,861 requests, seven days before the October 30th deadline to request a mail ballot. As of Friday, 40,566 of the mail ballots sent to voters have been voted and returned to the Clerk’s Office.

To find more early voting information, voters can visit the Harris County Clerk’s Election website at www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

Here’s my updated early vote-tracking spreadsheet, which includes the daily EV totals from 2004 and 2008 as well. Tuesday was even stronger than Monday, with 51,578 in person votes cast. That’s over 98,000 in person early votes already, which is over 142,000 when you include mail ballots. Wow. It’s a little tricky doing a straight comparison with 2004 and 2008, since EV locations change over the years, but you can get a good feel for where the vote is coming from. I strongly suspect that Republicans will do better in early voting this year than they did in 2008, mostly because they’ve been pushing it as relentlessly as Dems have been. The key question as always is what percentage of this is new voters, and what percentage is regular voters who have changed their habits. Dems grabbed that big lead in 2008 on the strength of early voting, then saw most of it slip away (in the case of a few candidates, all of it) because they pretty much ran out of voters by Election Day. Who’s got the new voters this year? Voter registration reached a new high this year.

Harris County’s voter roll topped 2 million Monday morning for the first time, county Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Don Sumners announced.

The precise tally of 2,003,436 represents a 80,852-voter increase since early September.

“The county’s still growing. If we look at it as a percentage of the population, it might not even be a big surprise,” Sumners said. “But I thought it was of interest that we had finally gone over the 2-million mark. We had been flirting with it for years.”

The previous record was set in mid-November 2008, also a presidential election year, when roughly 1.97 million people were registered.

An estimated 2.9 million of Harris County’s 4.1 million residents were 18 or older as of the 2010 Census. If that number is similar today, about 68 percent of the county’s voting-age residents are on the rolls.

Stan Stanart predicted turnout of a bit more than 1.2 million in this article, or about 61% of the total. The story says that would be an improvement of about a point over 2008, when turnout was 59.8%, but the election results page from 2008 put turnout at over 62%, so go figure. I’m going to hold off on such predictions for now, because we don’t know what the share of the final tally will be early voters. There were some rather giddy predictions made in 2008 based on the belief that early voting usually account for about half the final total. It wound up being about 63% of the final total in 2008. I will not be at all surprised to see it be a larger share this year. This may wind up being a good year to vote on Election Day if you want to avoid lines.

And while the GOP may do better in early voting, it looks like the Dems may do better in voting by mail.

As of Friday evening, 18,808 county residents had requested a mail ballot by returning applications sent to them by the county Democratic Party, and 3,567 more had returned applications mailed to them from other Democratic sources, for a total of 22,375.

That is compared with 26,591 voters who had returned mail ballot applications sent to them by the state Republican Party.

The numbers are far closer than in previous presidential years. In 2008, Republicans requested four times as many mail ballots as Democrats, and more than five times as many in 2004.

“A lot can happen between ‘I want to vote’ and ‘I’m going to go vote.’ We hurt ourselves, grandkids come over, who knows what,” said county Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis, who campaigned on the issue. “By running an effective vote-by-mail program, you are providing them with direct access, minimizing excuses and complications of them getting themselves to the polls and back.”

As you might expect, Harris County GOP Chair Jared is unimpressed by this. We’ll know who’s right when we see the final score. I noted this trend earlier, and as I said then, this may well be another example of shifting behavior rather than increasing overall turnout. Still, as HCDP Chair Lewis says, it can’t hurt.

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