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Charting Early Trends in Voter Turnout

It’s admittedly difficult to draw real conclusions based on just two days of early voting, but here we go.

West Austin voters cast ballots in early voting at an Austin Public Library branch on October 30, 2013.

It’s admittedly difficult to draw real conclusions based on just two days of early voting, but here we go: Both parties are seeing initial turnouts in some key large counties that are up big over the last non-presidential primary cycle. But there are some significant exceptions.

On the Republican side, it seems the biggest turnout gains over 2010 are in North Texas. Consider these numbers:

•    In Dallas County, turnout has more than doubled — from 4,617 to 10,251 — spurred by a nearly eight-fold increase in mail-in ballots.

•    In Tarrant County, turnout has nearly doubled — from 5,720 to 11,096. There, too, the increase in mail-in ballots is driving the increase.

•    Denton County is also nearly doubling turnout from four years ago. In fact, the only large county in North Texas bucking the trend is Collin County, where turnout has "only" gone up by 23 percent.

Turnout has increased healthily also in Harris County, from 13,044 to 16,633, and Bexar County, from 5,107 to 8,484. Another GOP stronghold in the Houston suburbs, Montgomery County, has nearly doubled its turnout from 2010.

On the Democratic side, there aren’t as many examples of huge jumps in turnout. The big exception is in Tarrant County, where turnout has nearly tripled, from 1,676 to 4,739. Travis County has also experienced a big jump; turnout has nearly doubled to 4,244. Lots more Democrats are also turning out early in Dallas County — from 3,491 to 5,533.

Turnout, though, is static in a traditionally strong county for Democrats, El Paso County. And in Harris County, turnout is down significantly from 2010 — from 7,676 to 5,316.

The picture should come into focus some more by next week. Turnout could be affected by contested local races in specific counties. And with Texas voters becoming increasingly comfortable with casting ballots early, the distribution of votes during the early voting period might be moving toward the front end of the cycle. With the gubernatorial and (probably) the senatorial contests at the top of the GOP ballot turning into yawners, the party could be hard pressed to match the 1.4 million-plus turnout of two years ago.

At first glance, though, it would seem that these numbers are in line with the larger historical trend of declining participation of voters in the Democratic primary, with the huge exception of the Obama-Clinton donnybrook in 2008, and steadily increasing participation in the Republican primary.

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