There’s a prevailing theme out of Texas that the state is turning blue, that the inevitability of the demographic and cultural shift will lead the Lone Star State back into the Democratic column, as it was for most of its history as a state. This narrative is advanced by the media, Democrats, and even some Republicans, since the idea of a competitive Texas raises money and gets attention.
In early October, the Biden campaign announced it was reserving $5.8 million in television advertising in Texas. The story generated headlines nationwide, the obvious implication being that if the Biden camp was spending money in Texas, it was all over for Team Trump.
Of course, a TV ad reservation is like a dinner reservation — it can be canceled without penalty. Most of that canceling occurred just a few days later. The head fake worked, the media having dutifully covered the story of Biden going big in Texas. In the meantime, the RealClearPolitics average of polls in Texas has the Trump-Pence ticket up 4.4 percent over Biden-Harris.
The real proof of a campaign’s attention to a state is where the candidate spends time. The candidate is (usually) a campaign’s most important asset. As of Oct. 15, neither Biden nor Harris had visited Texas. Trump has traveled out to the Lone Star State 11 times since last year.
Is Texas Turning Blue?
The current flurry of breathless reporting out of Texas is focused on early voting. Texas voters were able to cast early, in-person ballots starting Oct. 13. Mail-in ballots already received by election officials were also processed, but not unsealed, that day, resulting in a large first-day number, which is typical. Subsequent days generally show a big drop-off. The busiest days of early voting in Texas are the first two days and the last two days, the latter taking place on the Thursday and Friday before Election Day.
If Texans such as former Rep. Beto O’Rourke are to be believed, the state with the biggest Electoral College vote prize after California — the state Trump can’t win without — is going blue in a big way. O’Rourke tweeted:
Is O’Rourke right, or is it all hype?
Early Voting Numbers Aren’t What They Seem
Veteran Texas GOP consultant Derek Ryan pulled down the voter certificates for the first day of early voting, looking at both in-person and mail-in ballots, and found that 92 percent of everyone who voted on the first day had voted in past Texas election cycles. Does that 8 percent represent a surge? Maybe, though it’s important to note that Texas’ population is expanding at a rapid clip due to its pro-growth policies, with 7.3 percent more Texans this year than in 2016.
Ryan also found that about 38 percent of first-day votes were by people who participated in the Democratic primary compared to 32 percent Republicans. This would seem worrisome for Republicans, but Ryan noted, “The first day of early voting is dominated by mail-in ballots and we know that Democrats have gone all-in on mail-in voting. After the first day, mail-in ballots will decline relative to early in-person voting.”
Comparing the first two days of early voting from 2020 to 2016 in 13 of Texas’ largest counties — Harris County is still reporting partial results — comprising 49 percent of registered Texas voters shows no evidence of the surge in voting. This year, 10.97 percent of registered voters cast ballots by mail or in-person in the first two days of early voting in Texas. In 2016, the number in the 13 comparative counties was 10.26 percent. This is a 7 percent relative increase in the first two days. Breaking out the in-person from the mail ballots shows that 8.24 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the first two days in 2020 compared to 8.58 percent in 2016, a 4 percent relative decline.
Mail-in ballots tell a different tale. The first two days of tabulation show that 2.73 percent of registered Texas voters sent their ballots in early by mail this year compared to 1.68 percent in 2016, a 62 percent relative increase. Again, with Texas having 7.3 percent more people than four years ago, there might still be “record numbers” of voters even if the turnout percentage declined a bit.
Because Democrats have poured enormous efforts into harvesting mail-in ballots, the share of votes by mail will likely hit 15 percent or more when all the ballots are counted. In 2016, 5 percent of votes were cast by mail. Since the largest number of the mail-in ballots are received and processed on the first day of early voting, it’s likely that this year’s early turnout numbers will decline relative to 2016 as each day of early voting is reported.
Mass Mail-In Voting Is a Bad Idea
Texas is an excuse-required state for voting by mail, with registered Texans 65 and older automatically eligible, as well as those who claim disability or who will be out of their home county on Election Day. Democrats have been pushing for voters to be able to claim fear of catching COVID-19 at the polls as a disability, even going so far as mailing vote-by-mail applications to millions of voters and encouraging them to check the “disability” box regardless of any actual disability that would make it difficult or dangerous to go to the polls in person. This effort has been ruled illegal by the Texas Supreme Court, though that hasn’t stopped partisans from trying.
While mail-in ballots offer campaigns a degree of certainty, allowing them to bank votes, they do lack the protections of voting in person, exposing the voter to potential pressure or intimidation, subjecting the actual ballots to being tampered with, and resulting in a lack of voter-ID requirements.
Furthermore, a study published in the Harvard Data Science Review and featured recently in the Washington Post found that as many as 4.9 percent of mail-in ballots fail to result in a counted vote due to voter errors and Post Office inefficiency. That’s 1 in 20. The Democrats’ big gamble on mail-in ballots could be a giant tactical mistake, resulting in a million lost votes nationwide.
The contest for Texas’ 38 Electoral College votes, after two days of early voting, doesn’t indicate a surge in turnout. Rather the method of early voting is shifting from in-person to mail-in — a shift that should subside as a share of overall votes as Election Day approaches.