DALLAS - A record-setting election turnout is likely to become official Friday as Texas is set to pass 2016’s total number of voters before 2020 early voting concludes.
As of Thursday morning, more than 8.6 million Texans had cast ballots since the start of early voting. Total turnout for 2016 was 8,969,226. Texas leads the nation this year in early voter turnout.
People have been encouraged to vote early to try and avoid close contact and long lines on Election Day, but experts say that's not the only reason more people are showing up.
University of Texas at Dallas political science professor Robert Lowry says more people live in Texas than four years ago, Gov. Abbott gave the state six extra days of early voting and COVID-19 concerns are all reasons for higher turnout right now.
“The political parties have really been encouraging people to do in-person early voting,” Lowry said.
The Texas Secretary of State says almost 90 percent of votes, so far, have been in person.
An Austin researcher who tracks early voting found 350,000 more Republicans have cast ballots over Democrats statewide, based on records of recent primary voters. Texas does not requires voters to pick a party when they register.
“Texas has traditionally been a red state, so it’s no surprise more Republicans than Democrats have turned out,” said SMU political science professor Cal Jillson.
But there are also 3.5 million people statewide who cast early ballots that have not voted in a primary before.
“Who are all these new people that have turned out and how will they break between the Democratic and Republican parties?” Jillson asked. “I have to believe that they'll break toward the Democrats.”
Dr. Sean Hubbard teaches American government and political science at University of North Texas – Dallas. Hubbard says aside from tangible factors, there’s the intangible called enthusiasm.
“Maybe they see a bigger benefit from Donald Trump winning or maybe see a bigger benefit from Joe Biden winning and that’s going to motivate them to vote more,” Hubbard said. “We're a very low turnout state, typically, and to see Texans getting out and voting is very exciting.”
Which means some of the long lines from early voting could pop up again on Election Day.
“In a very high turnout election where both sides think there’s a lot at stake, people will continue to want to be involved,” Jillson said.
Some experts are predicting total Texas voter turnout for 2020 could reach as high as 12 million.
A Democratic presidential candidate has not won since Jimmy Carter in 1976. The final day of early voting is Friday and Election Day is next Tuesday, November. 3.