Nearly half as many people have so far voted by mail in Harris County as in 2018 during the same period, state data show.
About 31,000 voters submitted mail-in ballots by the end of the day Thursday, compared with 56,000 at this point four years ago. A similar trend is taking shape at the statewide level, where Republican voters who previously relied on mail ballots are likely opting to vote in person early or on Election Day, political analysts say.
Overall, turnout during early voting has also trailed slightly behind 2018. In the 30 counties with the most registered voters, about 11.1 percent have cast a ballot so far, though four counties had not yet submitted updated tallies as of Friday morning. About 16.1 percent had voted by this time four years ago.
The 31,000 mail ballots in Harris County make up about 1.2 percent of its registered voters. But in 2018, about 2.4 percent of registered voters’ ballots had been shipped off and counted by now.
Republicans in the past have had a 2-to-1 advantage in the vote-by-mail category, and the practice expanded in the 2020 election as the coronavirus spread. But as the pandemic waned, and after former President Donald Trump cast doubt on the integrity of the method, data shows Democrats now have the edge.
“Prior to 2018, voting by mail was really the bread and butter for Republican candidates,” said Derek Ryan, a GOP strategist whose company produces election data analyses. “And then (Trump) started discussing how potentially unsafe voting by mail could be, and I think that message has resonated with the Republican base.”
As of Wednesday in Harris County, 52 percent had previously voted in a Democratic primary, and 36 percent of mail voters had previously voted in a Republican primary, according to Ryan’s analysis. Yet, Republican voters have the upper hand in person, 41 percent to 34 percent.
Ryan, who’s been involved in politics in Texas since 2000, said this is the first election cycle he can remember in which most Republican candidates have not sent out mail ballot applications to registered voters.
Harris County elections spokeswoman Leah Shah said the county received far fewer applications that came from campaigns in this election — about 27,000 compared to 57,000 in 2018. Overall, the county received about 78,000 applications, compared with nearly 120,000 in 2018, she said.
“We’ve done a significant amount of education through the summer to ensure people feel confident in voting by mail,” Shah said. “It’s still an extremely important option for people who can’t come in person. We certainly want to encourage people to do so if needed and if they’re eligible.”
As noted, the in person early voting totals for Harris County right now are quite close to the 2018 numbers. The vote by mail totals are down quite a bit, and for sure that’s mostly Republican dropoff. For what it’s worth, in the 2018 general election in Harris County, Republicans had a slight lead in straight ticket votes on the mail ballots, though the Dem candidates for the most part had a modest edge overall. In 2020 Dems had a solid lead i mail votes, and I expect the same this year though with a smaller number of total mail votes cast. In the end, as I’ve said before, I would expect most of the former mail voters to turn out in person.
As for the Republican voters having an edge so far with in person voters, remember three things: One, the earliest voters tend to be the most faithful ones, so they’re disproportionately the strongest partisans. Two, going back to 2012 there have generally been more votes cast in Republican primaries than in Democratic primaries. The high water total for both parties in a primary is about 329K, with Dems hitting that mark in 2020 and Republicans in 2016. Not everyone votes in a given year’s primary so you can’t just add up the votes for each year, but my point is that to a first order approximation, the total number of people with an R primary history and the people with a D voting history are roughly the same.
(Yes, there were 410K Dem primary voters in 2008. That was 14 years ago. People move, people die, and we have about 700K more registered voters now in Harris County than we did then.)
Finally, there are a lot of people with no primary voting history. In 2018, when Dems had 159K primary voters and Republicans had 167K, every Dem other than Lina Hidalgo got at least 606K votes in November, while Republicans of the non-Ed Emmett variety got at most 560K (Hidalgo beat Emmett 595K to 575K). In 2020, with 329K Dem primary votes and 195K Republicans, it was at least 814K votes for Dems and at most 740K for Republicans. There are a lot of votes still to be cast.
Year Mail Early Total =============================== 2014 54,300 104,147 158,447 2018 65,232 315,030 380,262 2022 37,810 287,185 324,995
There were about 55K in person voters on both Thursday and Friday. Given the rains on Friday, it’s possible that total might have been higher otherwise. The 2022 in person tally continues to run at a bit more than 90% of the 2018 total (91.2%, if you want to be more precise), while the mail ballot total is about 80% of what it was in 2018. A simple and dumb extrapolation would suggest about 698K in person early voters plus 52K mail voters for a total of 750K, compared to 855K in 2018. I still think we wind up closer than that. The Trib has a nice daily tracker that as of last night was updated through Thursday, if you want to follow that along. I’ll post the next update Monday morning.