Navigating a packed parking lot and searching for available spots, voters arrived at NRG stadium last Friday for the final day of early voting. Once polls closed, Harris County tallied a total number of 750,349 voters who participated in early voting.
According to Leah Shah, director of communications and voter outreach at Harris County Election Administration, the final three days of early voting saw a turnout that surpassed the voter turnout of the final three days of early voting in the last midterm. But overall, when compared to the 2018 midterm, voter turnout dropped 20 percent. In 2018, 53 percent of eligible voters went to the polls; with this decrease in voter turnout, this midterm’s final voter turnout could dip to 48 percent of those eligible to vote, she said.
“We can’t exactly say why there was some decrease, sometimes it has to do with the amount of contests, the types of contests that are on the ballot or the amount of money that the campaigns are spending towards advertising,” Shah said. “There are a number of factors that play into the type of turnout that we see in an election cycle.”
Shah mentions the increase in polling locations and the addition of more days in the early-voting period as reasons that could play into voters’ urgency to get out to the polls. In 2018, the county had 46 polling locations, as opposed to 99. There were also fewer days in the early voting period, compared to the 12 days that this midterm election offers.
Out of the total number of voters so far, 692,478 have cast their ballots in-person, whereas 57,871 have voted via mail-in ballots. The county has rejected only .05 percent of mail-in ballots, which is a significant decrease from the 19 percent of mail-in ballots that were rejected in 2018, Shah said.
When comparing voter populations, this midterm is seeing a decline in the number of younger voters, compared to the last. Professor Mark P. Jones of Rice University states the decrease is particularly seen in young Democratic voters.
“In 2018, there were two things mobilizing young Democratic voters, one was to turn out to vote against Donald Trump, and the other was to vote for Beto,” Jones said. “This time around, you no longer have Trump and the Beto today, is not the Beto of 2018.” Jones states that Beto’s recent shift to a more partisan perspective that closely aligns with what younger voters characterize as an ‘out of touch Biden administration’ could be detracting these voters from participating in this election.
In 2018, Beto challenged incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz and fell just 220,000 voters short of winning the race. This race was recorded as the closest race in Texas in the last 40 years.
According to Jones, the decrease in younger Democratic turnout will assist Republican candidates that are on the ballot. “The older the electorate, the better for the Republicans,” Jones said. “Republicans enjoy much stronger support from these older populations which represent a larger share of the actual voting population.”
Jones said despite claims that voter turnout has decreased, this election has had voter turnout rates that are considered high for a midterm election. “Really, turnout is high this midterm, if we compare it to 2014 or 2010 midterms, it is only when we compare it to the 2018 election that it is down by 20 percent.”
Jones points out that the 2018 midterm was an outlier, compared to an average midterm election, as the voter participation then resembled the level of participation in a presidential election.
Shah expects to see busy polling locations on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, as it will be the final opportunity for Harris County residents to participate in this midterm. Voters can cast their ballots at any of the Election Day polling locations that will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.