By: Justin D. Davenport
Early voting started enthusiastically in Texas on Monday, October 24, 2016. Several counties—including Travis, Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, and Hidalgo counties—broke first-day voting records. Most counties saw a marked increase from opening day of early voting in 2012. While some counties have had more modest increases of fifteen (Bexar) or thirty (Tarrant) percent, several counties nearly doubled turnout for the first day of early voting in Texas. Although a seeming paradox in a state with consistently low voter turnout, Texans are showing up early to vote in record numbers, and the Lone Star State has a long history of early voting laws to accommodate citizens who want to cast their ballots before election day.
Beginning in 1925, qualified Texas voters could vote absentee up to twenty days before the date of an election. Voters applied via affidavit to the county clerk with a poll-tax receipt, fee for postage, and a statement explaining why the voter could not appear in person on election day. Once approved, absentee ballots needed to be marked in the presence of a notary public or qualified official and returned to the county clerk’s office.
To the relief of Texans who would prefer to vote early and confidentially and without providing a written excuse, many of these restrictions no longer apply. Early voting replaced absentee voting, and has been an option for Texas voters since 1987. Early voters are no longer required to fill out their ballots in the presence of a witnessing notary public, and may return ballots by mail, to designated locations within the county, or to the county clerk’s office. Not least, voters are able to cast their votes early without providing cause.
The Texas Legislature remains one of a handful of Republican-controlled southern states that retains early voting options for its citizens. A state steeped in southern tradition and an ethos of patriotism and love of liberty, it’s no wonder Texas voters appreciate a relatively flexible early voting period in which voters can cast their ballots when they want, how they want.
Although turnout on the first day of early voting broke records, the same thirty-one per cent of registered voters have decided to vote early this election that voted early at this point in 2012. When contrasted to this same day in 2008, when forty-five percent of registered voters had voted at early, the impressive turnout on the first day of early voting loses its steam. Interestingly, however, it seems that citizens who voted in the Democratic primary comprised a disproportionate segment of early voters, trailing Republicans by only 4 points even though twice as many Texans voted in the Republican primary earlier this year. Nevertheless, Texas Republicans held a substantial lead in the state, and all Texans continue to enjoy the convenience of voting early.