Just over a third of Texas’ registered voters turned out early this year, falling short of 2018 numbers

(Emily Albracht/The Texas Tribune, Emily Albracht/The Texas Tribune)

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Through Nov. 4, Texans cast early ballots in the state’s midterm elections for governor and other statewide officials. More people vote early than on Election Day — a trend that has been consistent at least since the 2008 presidential election.

Early voting for the midterms this year started Oct. 24.

[Election results: How Texas voted in the November 2022 midterms]

Turnout during midterms is usually much lower than during presidential elections. But a higher bar was set during the midterms in 2018, when 53% of registered voters showed up to the polls. That appears to have been an anomaly rather than a trend, with just 31% of registered voters turning up at the polls early this year. Looked at another way, just 5.51 million people out of the 17.7 million who are registered to vote actually cast their ballots during this year’s early-voting period.

A competitive governor’s race between Republican incumbent Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke didn’t appear to significantly boost turnout. Prior to early voting, polls suggested that Abbott was leading, but not by an insurmountable margin. And O’Rourke has continued to surpass Abbott in fundraising for the race, which is significant since Abbott is the most prolific fundraiser in state history.

Political observers had also speculated that the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade — the case that established the constitutional right to abortion — in June might have been a catalyst for higher turnout among Democrats. However, early-voting turnout suggests the decision on abortion access may not have been the motivator some Democrats had expected. In addition, a recent Tribune report found that the decision didn’t seem to impact overall voter registration trends in Texas, as it did in other states.

The Texas Tribune tracked turnout daily throughout the early-voting period for the 2022 general election. Below are the results as of Nov. 4, the end of early voting. Data is still provisional and could change when the Texas secretary of state certifies votes after the election.

Early voting this election compared with previous elections

During early voting, voters could cast ballots at any polling location in the county where they are registered to vote. But options like 24-hour and drive-thru voting, offered in some counties in 2020 because of the pandemic, are gone. New laws that went into effect in 2021 require polling locations to follow more uniform rules about opening and closing hours.

Polls couldn’t open earlier than 6 a.m. on weekdays and Saturday, or 9 a.m. on Sunday, and had to close by 10 p.m. There likely may have been fewer options for early voting in counties with less than 55,000 people, which weren’t required to have polling locations on weekends.

Voters using mail-in ballots were also required to include ID numbers on their ballot envelopes. The new requirement passed by the Texas Legislature in 2021 caused havoc during the 2022 primary elections when counties rejected thousands of ballots largely because voters were tripped up by the new ID rules.

The Texas secretary of state began tracking day-to-day trends in early voting throughout all its 254 counties only recently — in 2020. That makes it difficult to compare daily turnout during this year’s midterm elections to the midterms held in 2018.

To help us get a sense of how turnout compares, we can look at a sample of the counties where the secretary of state did gather daily turnout numbers in 2018: the 30 large counties with the most registered voters, which makes up 78% of the electorate.

During the 2018 midterm elections, turnout was unusually high in that sample group. Those counties are clustered in Texas’ largest metropolitan areas, plus a handful along or near the southern border, in East Texas and in the Panhandle. Almost 40% of those counties’ registered voters turned up to vote early in 2018. That was higher than the 19% early-voting turnout in the 2014 midterms for the 30 counties with the most registered voters — in-person and mail-in voting combined.

The makeup of Texas’ 30 counties with the most registered voters hasn’t changed much since 2018. They’re still home to 78% of Texas’ registered voters. Midland is the only new county on the list this year, taking the place of Randall County, which is home to part of Amarillo. What has changed is the number of voters: The counties gained 1.6 million more registered voters in the past four years. The state’s 224 smaller counties, by comparison, gained 268,000 new registered voters.

Early trends in the 10 largest counties in Texas

More than half of Texas’ registered voters live in the state’s 10 largest counties. Early-voting results in these counties might give a glimpse of where the contest is headed because of their sheer size.

But they’re far from a perfect measure. The 10 largest counties, which lean Democratic, differ politically from the state’s other 244 counties, which usually lean Republican. And past elections have shown that the collective political force of those smaller counties can have an outsize impact on results. Democrat Hillary Clinton won Texas’ larger counties in the 2016 presidential election but ultimately lost Texas to Donald Trump. O’Rourke won the larger counties during his 2018 Senate run but lost to Cruz. The pattern repeated again in 2020, when Democrat Joe Biden ran against Trump.


See the trends in your home county

Below, you can find out how many people voted in any county by entering an address or county name.

About the data

Preliminary 2022 early-voting data comes from the Texas secretary of state. Early-voting turnout for previous years and registered voter numbers are also from the secretary of state.

Alexa Ura, Carla Astudillo and Jade Khatib contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.