Voters in Texas’ most populous county have shattered the records for midterm election turnout during the first day of early voting.
Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said that, by 1:30 PM on Monday afternoon, over 36,600 voters had cast their ballots, a full 140 percent increase over the previous record of 26,051. At the time of this announcement, there were still three hours of voting to go.
“There are just incredible numbers of turnout today,” Stanart said.
This phenomenon is not limited to Harris County, which houses Houston (America’s fourth-largest city). Early voting numbers are spiking all across the state, likely fueled by the highly publicized senatorial race between Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).
Whoa. This is the line for early voting in #Houston. Literally people camped out last night so they could be among the first to vote. “This is one of the most important elections of our lifetimes,” Cody Pogue tells me pic.twitter.com/swtTEmcjcZ
— Jeremy Wallace (@JeremySWallace) October 22, 2018
El Paso already has had more than 8,600 early voters by 2 p.m., already shattering the one-day record for early ballots in a midterm. Previous record was 7,000 on last day of early voting in 2010. Staggering numbers for El Paso.
— Bob Moore (@BobMooreNews) October 22, 2018
Reports from all over Texas: In Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, The Valley, Lubbock, etc., wait times are 30 minutes to an hour at traditionally empty polling places #TXSen #txlege #EarlyVoting
— Scott Braddock (@scottbraddock) October 22, 2018
O’Rourke himself made appearances at half-dozen locations all over Houston to galvanize early voters.
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) October 22, 2018
These numbers are good news for O’Rourke, whose poll numbers still trail Cruz. The current RealClearPolitics polling average shows Cruz with an average lead of seven points over O’Rourke, which is outside typical margins of error between three and five percentage points. The latest poll of the Texas senate race, conducted by CNN between October 9 and October 13, showed Cruz with a sizable seven-point lead.
Texas voter turnout is ranked 47th in the country, and a central objective of Rep. O’Rourke’s campaign has been to energize Texans who don’t usually vote.
“Very simply, we have to get more people to vote. We have to increase voter turnout,” O’Rourke’s website reads. “The truth is that Texas is not a red state. It’s a non-voting state. The key to winning this election is increasing voter turnout. Getting people off the sidelines, engaged, and in the game.”
Republican activists in Texas like know this as well, which could be why one GOP activist has been actively challenging the registrations of at least 4,000 Harris County voters. The move has been criticized as “targeted voter suppression,” with the potential to disenfranchise thousands of voters in a predominantly Democratic county in the midst of a high-profile senate race.
Nathan Wellman is a Grit Post contributing editor in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @LIGHTNINGWOW. You can also email him at info AT gritpost DOT com.