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Election 2020

Harris County Is Breaking Early Voting Records. Here Are 4 Takeaways

Competitive races have attracted both Democratic and Republican voters to vote early both in urban and suburban areas of Harris County.

Voters wear mask at NRG Arena to vote early in Harris County.
Elizabeth Trovall/Houston Public Media
Voters wear mask at NRG Arena to vote early in Harris County.

This story is part of Houston Public Media's ongoing Election 2020 coverage. For more coverage from the Texas Newsroom, visit our Texas Decides page.

Harris County is on track to clock a million in-person early voters by the end of this week. That’s compared to the 1.3 million total voters who turned out overall during the 2016 presidential election.

Further analysis shows which areas are driving this increase in turnout and which voters are making it to the polls early this year.

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High turnout in competitive elections

University of Houston analysis of early voting data found competitive elections are a driving factor in Harris County turnout.

Early voter turnout has been high in the West University, Montrose, Memorial, Bunker Hill areas and the energy corridor, according to University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus.

“We’re seeing a spike in Katy where you’ve got a competitive House election (Texas House District 132) and we’re seeing spikes in the north part of the suburbs in Harris County, Kingwood and Atascocita where there’s a competitive race in Congressional District 2,” said Rottinghaus.

Early voter turnout has spiked in both Republican and Democratic strongholds

Though the first two days of early voting revealed fervent turnout among Democrats, in the following days of early voting Republicans showed up in greater numbers.

Downtown, Montrose and West University areas saw strong Democratic support, which could impact the races of Republican incumbents like U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who represents the 2nd Congressional District, and Sarah Davis, who represents Texas House District 134.

Meanwhile, University of Houston analysts observed strong Republican early turnout in places like Kingwood, Atascocita, Deer Park, Pearland, Katy and Memorial.

Latinos have been less likely to vote early

Analysis of Harris County early voting data shows that Latino voters are underrepresented in the record-breaking early turnout numbers.

About 17% of the county's early voters have Spanish surnames — despite making up nearly a quarter of registered voters, according to data from the Harris County Clerk's office.

Despite making up a greater share of registered voters than in 2016, Latino early voter turnout this year is proportionately the same as back then.

But that doesn't necessarily mean those voters won't turn out in large numbers: 2016 data shows Latinos were more likely to wait until Election Day to cast their vote.

Rottinghaus did observe strong turnout in the southeast part of the county.

“There’s a lot of turnout in Pasadena and in Southeast Houston where we see strong pockets of Latino community support. That’s probably going to drive turnout in a significant way in Harris County that we definitely have seen happen the last couple of election cycles,” said Rottinghaus.

Strong turnout among Latinos is expected to help Democrats, making Texas more competitive.

Statewide polling shows President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden as neck and neck in Texas. Trump won the state by 9 points in 2016.

Large numbers of non-primary voters have turned out in western Harris County

Early voting data also reveals strong turnout of non-primary voters in the western part of Harris County — those are voters who may not have a strong affiliation with either party, so they haven’t voted in a Texas primary election.

The growth in non-primary voters was concentrated in the part of the county past Beltway 8, where a lot of newcomers are moving in. Some of these voters also may not have had a chance to vote in the past primary election because of moving here from out of state.