As early voting wraps up this week, Denton County has seen a surge in voters, as well as campaign spending. Much of that has to do with the fracking debate, which has also incurred more spending than any other campaign in Denton's history.
"It's pretty fair to assume that given how much money is poured into this, that's why so many people are out," says Dr. Adam Briggle, a leader with Frack Free Denton and a bioethics professor at UNT. "Everything now is focused on communicating with voters, especially at the polls, and making sure that they're not confused when they're going in to vote. The language is definitely written by a lawyer. So we want to make sure that folks know that they're voting what they want to vote for."
As of Tuesday night, Denton County election officials report, there was a 16 percent increase in early voting from the 2010 election: 47,035 in-person votes were cast, up from 40,529 on the same early-voting day in 2010.
"I have noticed since I came here that there is great activity," says Lannie Noble, Denton County elections administrator. "We've had people at a lot of early-voting locations trying to get information out to the voters. Most especially here in Denton we've had the fracking parties, for and against, well-represented."
And the fight is reaching astronomical levels -- by Denton standards -- for money spent. To date, campaign finance documents indicate that nearly $800,000 has been spent by both anti-fracking and responsible drilling advocates; $700,000 of that has been spent by XTO Energy, Devon Energy and EnerVest to halt the ban.
"It's definitely a David versus Goliath. We knew that going in, but it's just very obvious now," Briggle says. "They're outspending us 10-to-1." Still, anti-frackers had been feeling confident, until recently, that their underdog fight would pull through in the election. Now, many are feeling that the vote could swing either way.
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"I felt last week that we were going to pull it out of the water," says Cathy McMullen, an activist with Frack Free Denton. "Now this week I feel it's tightening. It's going to be a very close race."
What anti-frackers lack in funds to produce the same volume of mail campaigns, billboards, television and radio ads as drilling advocates, they have made up in volunteerism. "We are keeping the pedal to the metal. Our volunteers are going to be just exhausted by the fourth," Briggle says.
"We feel strong and confident about our chances," he says. "We're doing great, but we need everybody to vote. That's what we're telling our volunteers and supporters: Your vote has more power than all their dollars. You can win it with your vote. That's what we're telling people."
From what he's seen around town, working with voting stations and administrators, Noble agrees that the fight is heating up. "I can tell you that here, the fracking issue does have people out in front of the buildings trying to get voters in support. We have had both sides of the proposition out in front since early voting started on the 20th," he says. "I must admit this is my first experience with nonstop electioneering. These people are dedicated to their cause, that's for sure."