Let's Shake the Early Vote Box Again and See What We Find Out

Have you joined the early voting wave?
Have you joined the early voting wave? natasaadzic / iStock
Halloween and rain don't make for ideal voting conditions. Just more than 26,000 people showed up to cast early votes in Dallas County on Wednesday, the second-lowest total so far in 2018. The depressed turnout was just a blip on a radar full of good news about civic participation so far this fall.

About 20,000 more people have cast ballots through the first nine days of early voting in Dallas County than cast ballots in Texas' last midterm election over 12 days of early voting and Election Day itself. More than 32 percent of eligible voters have already voted in the county, besting the percentage that did so in 2014. Dallas County, and the rest of the state, are headed for a turnout of 45 percent or more, easily topping two decades worth of subpar participation in nonpresidential elections throughout the state.

Voting is being done, but the question people desperately want to know is, "Who is doing it?" As we told you earlier this week, Republican political consultant Derek Ryan is doing his best to help us find out. Ryan compiles a report each day during early voting, showing just who and who hasn't shown up and cast ballots so far, based on previous voting history.

New in Thursday's report is the continued rise in the number of voters casting ballots who have never voted in a primary election but have previously voted in a general election in November. In Texas, these voters can't be classified, because the state has no party registration. The only inferences that can be made about what party a voter might or might not support come from primary voting history.

That group, the active voters but not in primaries group, has already eclipsed voters with exclusively Democratic primary histories and looks set to do the same to voters with exclusively Republican primary histories as soon as the next set of voting data comes in tomorrow.
The youth vote and the Latino vote continue to outpace those groups' 2014 participation, which is seemingly a good sign for Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Beto O'Rourke. Rice University political science professor Mark Jones says that maybe it's time to start comparing the vote to a different election to best evaluate O'Rourke and other Democrats' chances.

"One way to look at these numbers is that we're definitely far away from 2014, but 2014 was probably an abnormally good year for Republicans, in the sense that Barack Obama was unpopular in the White House and Wendy Davis, while spending a lot of money, didn't run the best campaign for Texas [governor]," Jones says. "When we compare something to 2014, we're looking at an ultra Democratic nadir, as opposed to the normal baseline. ... I think it's clear that we should just stop comparing it to 2014 in the sense that it's going to be much better for Democrats than 2014. That's clear. What's the best baseline to use? Probably 2016."

In 2014, Davis lost to Greg Abbott by more than 20 points in the state's top-of-the-ticket governor's race. Two years later, President Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by about 9 points in Texas' presidential contest.

Even in a turnout scenario that turns out to be good for Democrats, O'Rourke or any other statewide hopeful will have to cover that 9-point spread to win.

"The optimistic Democratic scenario is that you're going to have an electorate that looks pretty much like 2016 or slightly better," Jones says.  
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young