Travis County Turnout O.K. So Far, and It's Not All HD-50

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Through the end of Friday, Travis County has 5.64% voter turnout with 34,888 voters by mail or in person. While a sub-6% voter turnout seems miniscule, it's actually high compared to other urban counties in Texas. It's even slightly higher than Harris County, whose Houston mayoral race and Astrodome ballot question have led it to a 5.56% Early Vote turnout.

The almost thirty-five thousand Travis County early voters are more than in 2011, 2009, and 2007, too. And 5.64% isn't a bad start, considering that some consultants' internal polling predicted only 8.2% turnout overall.

Not good, but better than expected.

So, what's driving this “strong” turnout? Interestingly, despite the special election to replace Mark Strama, HD-50 does not have the highest turnout in town. So which house district does?

Read below the fold as I dig deeper into the numbers.Many would suspect the highly competitive House District 50 election to be pushing turnout, and it may be. However, House Districts 47 and 48 (represented by Paul Workman and Donna Howard) have each had more voters than House District 50. The turnout among Travis County's House Districts, with representatives in parenthesis, has fallen like this:

House District 46 (Dawnna Dukes) 3,243

House District 47 (Paul Workman) 6,836

House District 48 (Donna Howard) 8,361

House District 49 (Elliott Naishtat) 6,294

House District 50 (Vacant)              6,815

House District 51 (Eddie Rodriguez) 2,972

(Note: only HD-50 has a State Representative election on the ballot.)

Voters in East Austin outside of House District 50, unfortunately, continue to stay away from the polls pretty consistently. But a few more thousand are showing up elsewhere. Besides the race to replace Mark Strama, turnout may be driven by campaigns on the City of Austin's $65 million affordable housing bonds and statewide Proposition 6, which besides millions of dollars in support across Texas, actually has some local opposition.

But the numbers can tell us more than what issues are driving a small-turnout election. Here are some quick observations from the numbers I saw on Travis County's 2013 Early Voting.

Republicans are showing up, too, and that's good news for Republican Mike VanDeWalle. About 1,500 of the 6,800 voters in House District 50 have strong Republican voting histories. Another 1,300 or so voters or so probably lean Republican, based on voting records. Sure, that's less than half of the vote so far, but there are three Democrats splitting the rest. There's a good chance that Rico Reyes and Jade Chang Sheppard are strategically targeting some Republican voters — but unless Democrats win over a vast majority of moderate Republicans or the trends change with higher Democratic turnout on election day, Mike VanDeWalle and his lackluster campaign may waltz into a runoff.

Republican turnout could be a concern for Austin Housing Bond supporters, but Keep Austin Affordable still has a path to victory. Of the 30,000+ City of Austin voters already, over 11,000 have Republican voter profiles of some sort. That's probably a little more than Democratic consultants were hoping for or even expecting. On the other hand, that's about the same number of Austinites who have voted and have strong Democratic voter profiles, plus there's another 4,000 Austin voters who have soft-D profiles, too. So, if Keep Austin Affordable wins Democrats over at significantly larger rates than the 2012 Housing bond campaign, David Butts' statements of optimism could still prove prescient.

Most mail-ballots received by Friday were from strong Democrats. Of the 3,020 mail ballots received by the end of Friday, slightly over half were cast by voters with heavy Democratic primary voting histories. And that's throughout the county, which suggests a mail-ballot effort by someone who thinks Democrats will support their cause — perhaps either Keep Austin Affordable or one of the campaigns in favor of Proposition 6.

Almost a third of all mail ballots come from House District 50. Will a mail ballot campaign give any candidate an edge when the polls close tomorrow? Speaking of vote-by-mail campaigns, it looks like at least a couple HD-50 candidates conducted such efforts, too. If multiple candidates ran “VBM” campaigns, they won't likely give a key advantage over every other, but every extra edge is a big deal in an election with such low turnout. If a candidate misses a runoff by only a couple hundred votes and did not do a “VBM” campaign, they would likely regret it.

Finally: the most partisan Democrats are showing up in HD-50. In a special election with three active Democrats and one lackluster Republican, this isn't a surprise, even though it's in contrast to the strong Republican numbers that favor Mike VanDeWalle. But HD-50 is a district that consistently draws more Republican primary voters than Democratic primary voters, and yet this special election is turning out more voters with heavy Democratic primary histories than Republican primary histories. That is, over 2,000 of the 6,800 votes are by pretty partisan Democratic voters. This fact probably gives special hope to Celia Israel, who is the candidate running most explicitly on a “most liberal Democrat” platform. But we're not close to ready to call a runoff spot for Israel. There's another conclusion that can be drawn from that number, too: despite attacks by every HD-50 Democrat claiming that their fellow Democrats may side with Republicans, Celia Israel, Rico Reyes, and Jade Chang Sheppard are all probably pretty good Democrats that get the party activists to show up — and that's a good thing.

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