TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — It’s one week into early voting and as of Sunday evening, just shy of 19% of Travis County registered voters have already cast a ballot.
By comparison, nearly 28% of registered voters had already cast their ballots seven days into early voting during the November 2018 midterms. In total, more than 47% of registered Travis County voters cast a ballot by mail or in person during the 2018 early voting period.
Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edward’s University, said the 2018 midterms were an anomaly in the realm of voter turnout, benefitting from a high profile senatorial race between Sen. Ted Cruz and then-candidate Beto O’Rourke.
Despite O’Rourke reappearing this cycle on the gubernatorial ticket, Smith said the Democratic challenger was no longer a “fresh face” in politics, which might hinder his performance this election cycle.
“He was something new to the political scene. Now we’ve seen him as a Senate candidate, a presidential candidate and a gubernatorial candidate, such that he’s not the exciting, fresh face he once was,” he said. “We also looked down the ballot — there aren’t a lot of other exciting races in the state when we look at Texas with all its congressional districts.”
That election cycle also saw a “referendum on Trump,” Smith added, with the former president galvanizing Democratic voters to turn out in higher numbers. This cycle, despite similar ballot items like a gubernatorial race and Austin mayoral election, hasn’t generated the same kind of voter response, he said.
“With Trump not on the ballot, without the Senate race, things have calmed down a bit,” he said. “We are tracking higher than 2014…but in many respects, 2018 was an anomaly both in Texas and nationwide.”
The only district election item that’s drawing a tight race this election season is the 34th congressional district race in south Texas. The lack of more contentious, close-call state races might also be translating into lower voter interest, he said.
Traditionally, early voting appetites set the tone for how large or small of a turnout there will be on Election Day. Unless a major incident occurs between now and Election Day, Smith said the likelihood of a large surge on Nov. 8 is low.
“Compared to 2018, this looks like a year that might be a little lower for voter turnout,” he said. “And we know historically, when voter turnout is lower in Texas, Republicans do a little bit better because Republicans are going to be more likely to vote than some of the key democratic, core constituencies.”
This has also been an early voting period with several snags, he added; there was inclement weather at the start of early voting, as well as Halloween falling on the last Monday of early voting.
Smith added there is still the remainder of Monday and four full days of early voting left.
Post-Friday, he said constituents should be prepared for even more campaign ads running, Smith said. Both parties will double down on ads encouraging voters to make their way to the polls, especially within precincts that traditionally vote for their candidate.
For those who don’t vote this week, they’ll need to head to the polls on Nov. 8 for their votes to count.
“It also means that you’re going to be in a bigger line,” he said. “So if you have the opportunity to vote early, certainly take advantage of it if you know how you’re going to vote. But if not, go and vote on Election Day and be prepared to wait a little bit longer.”