After an energetic Democratic campaign to get new Texas voters to the polls, turnout rates spiked on the first day of early voting in the state.
According to figures released by the secretary of state’s office, Texas’ six largest counties all saw increases in voting Monday compared to the first day of early voting in 2010, the last midterm election.
The voting surge came amid an intense push by groups supporting Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor, to register and mobilize millions of new voters, many of whom are minorities. The effort was led by Battleground Texas, a group of former Obama campaign veterans aiming to make the state competitive over the long term. Texas has long had some of the lowest voting rates in the country.
Of course, the high profile of the governor's race also likely played a role in motivating voters. Davis, a state senator, sparked enthusiasm among progressives with her dramatic filibuster of an abortion bill last year. She still trails Republican Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general, in the polls, though.
Among Texans who tried to vote, there were few early reports of problems with the state’s controversial voter ID law. But a much more detailed analysis will be required to gauge the law’s impact on turnout. Some Democrats said the last-minute back-and-forth over the law — after being struck down by a federal judge, it was approved by the Supreme Court just 48 hours before voting started — is motivating voters.
The turnout numbers were striking. In Tarrant County, which contains Davis’s home base of Fort Worth, 29,391 people voted Monday, nearly three times the comparable number for 2010. Heavily Hispanic El Paso County also saw a nearly threefold increase.
Harris County, which contains Houston, saw 61,735 voters Monday — an increase of more than 11,000 compared to the number who voted on the first day in 2010. Bexar County, containing San Antonio, saw an increase of nearly 7,000 voters. In Dallas and Travis (Austin) counties, the increases were respectively nearly 3,000 and nearly 1,000.
More than one-third of Texans live in those six counties.
Earlier this month, data released by the counties showed that the number of people registered in Texas’s five largest counties — Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Travis, and Bexar — increased by 373,000 since 2010.