Let's Take a Look Inside Dallas County's Early Voting Numbers

Consider this a supplement to all the coverage we've done of Texas' midterm election and all the voters who've shown up early to cast ballots. Like Creatine, whey protein or Weight Gain 4000, it shouldn't be taken without considering the warning label: These numbers might mean something, or they might end up meaning nothing at all. Texas is dealing with voter turnout that doesn't look like any midterm that's happened in this last couple of decades, so speculate at your own risk

With that out of the way, let's take a look at some of the numbers behind Texas early voting.

First, there has been a huge increase in raw, numerical turnout across the board. In Texas' 15 largest counties, more than 2.8 million residents have voted through eight days of early voting, compared with just over 1 million at the same point in 2014 and 976,000 at the same point in 2010.

The 15 counties are about 100,000 ballots short of where they were through eight days in 2016, but several of the biggest counties, including Dallas, have eclipsed their presidential year totals.

That's the top-line stuff, but, thanks to Derek Ryan, the former research director for the Republican Party of Texas, we can go a lot deeper. Using data from the Texas Secretary of State's Office, Ryan puts together a daily file throughout early voting detailing exactly who's showed up. In the two weeks before an election when everything seems hazy, it's genuinely interesting stuff. 
One of the ways Ryan looks at the data is to break out voters by their previous primary participation, the closest one can get to registering by party in Texas.

So far this year, 31.5 percent of voters have a history of voting in Republican primaries without having voted in Democratic primaries, while 27.7 percent of voters have voted in Democratic primaries without crossing over to vote in a Republican primary. The next biggest bloc of voters, 28.6 percent, has no primary election history but has voted in previous general elections, while 9.5 percent of voters casting ballots so far this year have never voted in a primary or general election before. Fewer than 4 percent of voters who've participated so far have mixed primary histories.

If, as Democrats believe, those new voters are going to vote for Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke over incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, the electoral pie cooked up so far looks OK, if not pretty good, for the challenger.

Ryan's data also gives a peek at how two key demographics for Democrats are turning out so far. While they represent almost double the percentage of the electorate than they did in 2014, voters 20-29 are still voting in smaller proportion than they did in 2016. Same goes for voters 30-39. Voters 60-69 and 70-79, conversely, compose a greater percentage of the electorate than they did two years ago, although they do make up less of the electorate than they did in 2014.

About 19 percent of voters who've already cast ballots have Hispanic surnames, compared with 15.2 percent of all early voters in 2014.

If early voting continues at its current pace, turnout could approach 50 or 55 percent, in line with what Democrats have predicted would make them competitive statewide. There's another warning, this one specifically for Democrats, that should come with all the early voting numbers so far.

At the end of early voting for the Texas primaries in March, more than 40,000 more Democrats had cast ballots in the state's most populous 15 counties than Republicans. When all the votes were finally tallied on election night, Republicans ended up outvoting Democrats by about 500,000 votes, despite a lack of competitive statewide races.

SMU political science professor Matthew Wilson gave the Observer a warning then that still applies now.

"Stop generalizing just from early voting. Wait until people actually vote on Election Day because what we have seen is that there are major partisan differences in the utilization rate for early voting. Democrats, for a variety of reasons, seem to prefer to vote early. Republicans still prefer to vote on Election Day," he said.