Early voters

People head toward the early voting site at the Robson Ranch Clubhouse on Oct. 20.

Texas hit another voting milestone Monday as the percent of registered voters who have cast ballots early surpassed the total early voting turnout from any other presidential election — even though the state has four more days of early voting left.

In all, 46% of Texas registered voters voted early through Monday, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Texas secretary of state. In 2016, the previous high-water mark, 43.5% of registered voters cast ballots during the entire early voting period. More than 85% of ballots have been cast in person.

On the same day Texas hit this milestone, Denton County voters surpassed 2016’s overall voter turnout.

By the end of the day Monday, 314,069 registered voters in the county had cast ballots. Denton County received 302,835 ballots in the 2016 general election for a total voter turnout of 64.69%.

With Monday’s voting totals, 55.4% of registered voters in Denton County have ensured their voices are heard for the 2020 general and special elections.

Officials expect to see those numbers jump up.

“I do expect turnout to increase significantly the last two to three days of early voting,” Denton County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips said Tuesday. “Typically the last day of early voting is very heavy, and I expect to see exactly that this Friday. I would not be surprised that at the end of early voting we are at or near the overall turnout of 64.69% of 2016.”

The raw total of votes cast in Texas through Monday was 7.8 million, 1.2 million more than the 6.6 million who cast ballots early in all of 2016 and 87% of the total number of votes cast in the state during the last presidential election. There are 1.8 million more registered voters in Texas than in 2016, a 12.3% increase. But the percentage turnout indicates that population increases alone can’t account for the high number of early voters in the state.

The reasons could be myriad. For one, Gov. Greg Abbott extended the early voting period by six days this year in hopes of alleviating crowding at the polls and slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Texas has had 14 days of early voting so far and has four days left; early voting in 2012 and in 2016 each had 12 days. In addition, voters’ habits in Texas have been shifting for years as more voters choose to vote early rather than on Election Day. In 2016, 73% of voters cast their ballots early and 26% voted on Election Day.

But also many candidates and parties have reported high energy among voters as President Donald Trump inspires passions on both sides and Texas appears unusually competitive up and down the ballot.

In some counties, early voting turnout is far outpacing voter registration growth.

Denton County, for instance, has gained over 100,000 registered voters — an increase of 21.6% — since 2016. Denton County voters cast 224,084 total early votes in 2016 and 314,059 early votes through Monday in 2020, a 40.2% increase, suggesting that there was still a surge in turnout when accounting for registration growth.

Other suburban counties like Hays and Williamson in the Austin area also saw increases in turnout that surpassed increases in voter registration. Voter registration in Hays County has grown by 26% since 2016, while its number of early votes increased by 42.9%.

Many other large urban counties, including Dallas, Harris, Bexar and Travis, also had turnout gains outpace increases in registration, though not as large as the more suburban counties such as Hays and Denton.

The fast-growing suburbs are widely considered key battlegrounds in Texas this year. They have traditionally voted Republican in presidential races, but results from the 2018 elections as well as polls have suggested that Democrats could narrow past margins or flip certain counties blue this year.

Early voting in the state began Oct. 13 and runs until Friday. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Denton Record-Chronicle staff writer Zaira Perez contributed to this report.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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