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Pushing absentee voting

We’ll see how this goes.


Texas Democrats, armed with better data and a reinvigorated ground game, have launched an aggressive campaign to turn out voters in November who have spurned them by wide margins for decades: the elderly.

The state Democratic Party sent out 600,000 mail ballot applications this month to Texans over 65, a strategy party leaders believe could allow the party to compete with Republicans, who have run a successful vote-by-mail initiative for several years and are expanding theirs just as the Democratic program takes its baby steps.

Down in the polls ahead of November’s governor’s race, Democrats are clawing for every vote that can mitigate Republicans’ historical advantages with certain populations. The elderly are, perhaps, America’s most reliable voting demographic, casting 20 percent of the ballots in the 2010 Texas governor’s race despite only being 10 percent of the population. Nearly two-thirds of those senior votes went to Rick Perry.

This year, state Democrats are aiming to increase senior turnout by about 4 percentage points, which could tip the scale if the election tightens – especially in Harris County, where both parties’ outreach campaigns are at their most vigorous.


Given that Davis trails in the polls and that allied Democratic groups are motivated to transform Texas politics in the long term, the push to turn out seniors who generally do not vote in midterm elections could pay off in the future, [pollster Jim] Henson said.

“The argument from the beginning is that you have to chip away from multiple fronts, and this is one of those fronts,” said Henson. “It makes sense for them to leave no stone unturned looking for votes under the circumstances.”

In Harris County, both county parties have decided to supplement Austin’s vote-by-mail campaigns with their own operations. Whichever county party is better at encouraging seniors to send in their ballots could determine who represents Pasadena in the State House, considered one of the area’s most competitive elections this November. Seniors cast 36 percent of all ballots in the 144th District in 2010.

That is why Lane Lewis, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, said he has made increasing vote-by-mail a part of his platform since running for party chair in 2011.

“Our message is: There’s an election. We know you vote Democrat. Vote by mail. It’s simple. It’s clear. If you have any questions, call this number,” he said.

I don’t get the sense that the HD144 race is particularly competitive this year despite its lean-Dem composition, but never mind that. I agree with Henson that this is a good move by the Dems. It’s easy enough to identify the voters you want to target, and as the story notes it’s easier now to apply for a mail ballot. This has indeed been part of HCDP Chair Lane Lewis’ strategy, and you saw some of its effects in the 2013 city elections. Like I said, I approve of this, but I would caution against reading too much into any initial numbers on who has requested or returned mail ballots. As was the case with the big jump in early voting we saw in 2008 and that has continued since then, some portion of this will be people shifting behavior to absentee voting, and thus won’t represent any kind of increase in overall turnout. I’m not saying we won’t see an increase in turnout this year – Lord knows, I hope we do, it’s what the Davis/BGTX strategy is based on – just that we won’t know the effect by this alone. We’ll need to know who is voting, by which I mean what their past voting history looks like. We’ll keep an eye on this and see what we can tell as it’s going on.

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