Politics

Texas early voting tops 2016 total with more than 9 million ballots cast

Key Points
  • Texas has surpassed its total 2016 voter turnout with four days until Election Day, according to data released by state election officials Friday morning.
  • Polling suggests Texas could be a battleground in 2020, as shifting demographics have given Democrats hope in the presidential race between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
  • Texas does not report party affiliation of early voters, making it difficult to predict how parties' voter shares are shaping up so far.
A poll worker helps a voter at a mail in ballot drop off location on October 13, 2020 in Austin, Texas. The first day of voting saw voters waiting hours in line to cast their votes.
Sergio Flores | Getty Images

Texas has surpassed its total 2016 voter turnout with four days before Election Day, according to data released by state election officials Friday morning.

Voters have cast more than 9 million ballots in person and by mail so far, setting a new record in the state. In the 2016 presidential election, 8,969,226 Texans voted, according to the state's official tally.

The milestone reflects high turnout across the country for the presidential race between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, as the coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented demand for early voting.

Since the last presidential election, Texas has gained about 1.9 million registered voters, The Texas Tribune reported. About 53% of registered Texas voters have cast their ballot in 2020 so far.

Early voting in Texas has been led by Harris County, the Houston metropolitan area and third-most-populous county in the country. Harris County voters have cast more than 1.3 million ballots in 2020. Experts say the county could be key to flipping Texas blue.

"Harris County is the tip of the spear for Democrats in Texas," Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, told NBC News. "It needs to be leading turnout to be able to offset some of the Republican strongholds in rural parts of the state. Basically, Texas doesn't flip if Harris County doesn't have supersized turnout."

Democrats have long hoped that shifting demographics in the state could edge Texas further left. While a Democratic presidential candidate hasn't won the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976, polls are suggesting the Republican stronghold may be a battleground in 2020. Real Clear Politics' polling average gives Trump a lead of just 3.2 percentage points over Biden.

The state's 38 electoral votes are considered a must-win for Trump. In 2016, Trump won Texas over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 9 points.

Texas does not report party affiliation of early voters, making it difficult to predict how parties' voter shares are shaping up so far. NBC News has modeled that 53% of early votes come from registered Republicans while 37% come from registered Democrats and 10% from unaffiliated voters.

In-person early voting in Texas ends on Friday. Texas' limited mail voting eligibility has made in-person voting the primary mode of casting ballots. Some counties, including Harris, have implemented drive-through voting and expanded early voting sites to add voting options. More than 8 million Texans have voted in person, compared with 947,235 ballots returned by mail.

"What we're seeing is, when you build it they come," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county's top elected official, told NBC News. "We've learned that we can't blame the historic lack of participation on the voters themselves. It's been these obstacles."

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Texas became the second state to surpass 2016 total votes after Hawaii exceeded its 2016 voter turnout on Thursday. Record-breaking early voting turnout has continued across the country.

At least 83.5 million Americans have voted in the 2020 presidential election, according to the U.S. Election Project. Early voting across the country has now reached over 60% of total votes cast in 2016.

While Democrats have dominated mail-in voting, Republicans lead with in-person voting in states that report party registration. Of about 30.8 million returned mail ballots tracked by the U.S. Elections Project, registered Democrats have sent in 49.8%, compared with 26.1% by Republicans. When it comes to the over 9.7 million reported in-person votes, registered Republicans have cast 41.6% of in-person ballots, with Democrats trailing at 36.1%.

As in-person early voting periods draw to a close and absentee ballot deadlines approach, all eyes are on Election Day.