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Government/Politics

Despite hotly contested primaries, few Texans have voted early so far

Keren Carrión
/
KERA News

In the state's largest counties, voter turnout was below 5% during the first seven days of early voting. Election officials said some Texans could still be making up their minds before Election Day on March 1.

Despite the state's top Republicans facing notable challenges in the March 1 primary election and a popular Democrat in that party's gubernatorial race, voter turnout in the first seven days of early voting was below five percent in the state’s largest counties.

Through Sunday, voter turnout was only about 4% total in the 15 Texas counties with the most registered voters, according to data available Tuesday afternoon from the secretary of state. The counties include Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, El Paso, Hidalgo, Williamson, Montgomery, Galveston, Brazoria and Cameron.

That’s slightly below the 4.46% turnout during the same time period in 2018, according to data from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Overall, there are about 17,184,000 registered voters in Texas. As of Sunday, about 2.7%, or 465,000 voters across the state, have cast ballots in the Republican primary. That’s compared to about 295,000, or 1.7%, that have voted in the Democratic primary.

In the state’s largest counties, only Brazoria County had a turnout higher than 4% in the Republican primary, while Hidalgo County in the Rio Grande Valley had a turnout higher than 4% for the Democratic primary.

It’s not necessarily unusual to see a single-digit turnout, said Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the Texas Secretary of State’s office. He told The Texas Newsroom that — unlike general elections, where voters tend to make up their minds earlier — Texans tend to take a few more days to make a choice from within their respective parties.

“Primary voters are a little bit more discerning. They're a little bit more ‘Hey, show me what you got’ to the candidates,” he said. “So, I think the primary voters, generally speaking in the past, usually wait until the end of the early voting period or Election Day to vote.”

The current election is the first in the state since the Texas Legislature passed an elections bill that ushered in several changes to election procedures, including tighter restrictions on applications for mail-in ballots. Voters who request a ballot must provide driver’s license or Social Security information they first submitted when they registered.

In Harris County for example, 33,270 mail-in ballot applications were received by Harris County and 4,598 — or 14% — were flagged for rejection due to the new voter ID requirements. Another 13,736 — or 41% — were “flagged for rejection for any reason,” Houston Public Media reported last week.

That led local officials to ask the Biden administration to intervene to ensure every voter is able to cast a ballot.

“Our message today is simple: please exhaust every legal option available to ensure that each eligible voter in Harris County and the State of Texas has their vote counted,” Harris County officials wrote U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

There have also been discrepancies between the total vote count from the state and the data published by the county. In El Paso County, records through Monday show a total of 10,525 ballots cast in the Democratic primary white state data shows 9,289. The El Paso elections department was still reviewing the data as of Tuesday afternoon but Taylor said the reason could be that county officials have to upload raw data and also a roster all voters who have cast a ballot, which could be leading to some delays.

“They're posting their raw numbers to their website and it's taking them a little bit longer to upload all the different pieces of data that they have to include to our website,” he said. “That may account for the discrepancy at the end of the week.”

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.
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