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Where the votes are these days

Let me introduce you to Harris County Precinct 697. It’s a very Democratic precinct, but it doesn’t get a lot of turnout, at least not compared to some of its neighboring precincts. Here’s what happened in Precinct 697 last year:

Precinct RVs Votes Turnout Harless Khan Pct Sharp Pct ================================================================== 697 5198 1108 21.32 323 704 68.6 710 69.0

Yes, Precinct 697 is in HD126, which means it’s out in a part of the county where Democrats don’t do much in the way of campaigning. It’s also the single biggest precinct in that district, and as you can see it performs very well from a Democratic perspective. If it were in Democratic turf, it would be a prime target for GOTV operations, especially as part of a coordinated county campaign like we’re expecting to get in 2008.

The reason why I’m introducing you to this precinct is that I believe we have to rethink our notion of where Democratic voters are, and where our turnout efforts need to be, if we really are serious about turning Harris County blue in 2008 and beyond. We know how to fish in the friendly waters, but we’ve got to be willing to venture beyond them, because the data tell me there’s a lot of opportunity to better Democratic performance if only we’d expand our aim a little.

Let’s take a closer look at HD126, which is very much a Republican district, but not a monolith. Here are all of the precincts in HD126 where Democrats ran well:

Precinct RVs Votes Turnout Harless Khan Pct Sharp Pct ================================================================== 468 3792 841 22.18 245 548 68.3 535 68.2 520 3977 715 17.98 249 405 61.9 419 64.1 613 2614 564 21.58 155 379 71.0 389 72.7 614 4133 1177 28.48 446 654 59.4 667 60.7 697 5198 1108 21.32 323 704 68.6 710 69.0 757 3712 590 15.89 187 363 66.0 382 68.2 873 729 144 19.75 34 102 75.0 108 78.3

(“Sharp” is Jim Sharp, the top votegetter among Dems in Harris County last year.) I submit to you that if I showed you these numbers, and you didn’t know where these precincts were, you’d agree with me that they’re ripe for a turnout improvement plan. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to take these 60%+ Democratic precincts and try to drive their turnout up. That’s where the votes are, after all. Yet every one of these precincts had lower turnout than every single other precinct in HD 126. Overall turnout was 33.96%, and only two Republican precincts came in at under 30%.

Putting it another way, total turnout in the Democratic precincts of HD126 was 21.28%; in the Republican precincts, it was 39.00%. By my rough calculation, had the Dem precincts turned out at that level, Democrats would have netted about a thousand extra votes. When you realize that Mary Kay Green missed being elected by less than 7000 votes, that’s really something.

Now, I know it’s easy to be seduced by the lure of GOTV as a cure-all for electoral woes. Turning out voters, especially voters who aren’t habitual voters, is hard. So let’s take a look at how these precincts performed in 2002 for comparison purposes:

Precinct RVs Votes Turnout Dewhurst Sharp Pct ====================================================== 468 3538 1007 28.46 345 593 63.2 520 4084 856 20.96 399 414 50.9 613 2643 750 28.38 221 503 69.5 614 4085 1349 33.02 609 689 53.1 697 4064 1181 29.06 395 728 64.8 757 2193 360 16.42 143 187 56.7 873 652 212 32.52 66 136 67.3

Here, “Sharp” refers to John Sharp. Peggy Hamric ran unopposed, so I’m skipping that race. Note two things here: Turnout was better in every precinct in 2002, and Democratic performance was better in every precinct in 2006. Maybe some of that was Republicans being more likely to stay home last year, but maybe these precincts, especially 520, are getting even bluer. In 2002 at least there was a rudimentary GOTV operation in the form of a high-dollar TV advertising campaign. Whatever the merits or flaws of the Democratic statewide effort of that year, there was nothing remotely like it this last time around.

What I’m saying is simply this. I believe there are a lot of precincts like the ones I’ve documented here – blue dots in red areas. (I’m going to review the other Republican HDs as well to try to prove that.) I believe that Democrats in Harris County have not expended much, if any, effort in targeting the voters in those areas. I believe we are not maximizing our efforts to win countywide if we are not targeting those voters. I believe we need to give some thought as to how we do this – certainly, mail needs to be a part of it, but being on the ground has to be a part of it as well. Ideally, there’d be a State Rep campaign to be the focal point of the latter. Point is, almost anything we might think of is likely to be better than what we’ve been doing.

I’ll report on more of these areas in the coming weeks. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: Here’s Precinct 697.

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  1. If you ever see dead people on the voter rolls for Precinct Two, take a closer look, you might want to cross refernce some names. Glenwood Cemetary and Washington Cemetary are both in the precinct.

  2. Aaron says:

    The problem with your theory is that a lot of Democratic precincts contain renters versus property owner and that means their are more “dead” names on the voter rolls. So one reason the percentage is lower is because many of those people simply don’t live there anymore – they just haven’t been purged from the voter rolls yet.

    This goes on everywhere.

  3. Greg Wythe says:


    There’s a little more than a speck of truth in your argument. But in the case of Pct. 697, 88% of the registered voters live in homes. Whether renting or owning, that’s still an indication of more stability.

    Your point stands out when you look at Suspense list voters compared to active voters: 29% of the apartment dwellers are on the suspense list; 9% of the homeowners are. Just looking at the active voters, the turnout would still be a meager 25% and home addresses account for 90% of the active list voters.

    I don’t doubt that there’s something to your argument, just not enough to warrant the difference. If I take a precinct I know more firsthand (Pct 431), I can see that the difference in TO would have been about 4-5% points if you just looked at Active voters … but still below 25% in a precinct full of apartment dwellers.

    So the argument doesn’t explain even the majority of the difference we see in turnout between wealthier parts of town and poorer parts of town.