FORT WORTH — Early voting for Texas’ March 4th primary ended Friday with turnout numbers that shattered all previous records.
The vast majority of those ballots were cast in the Democratic primary, a turnout that gave Republican officials pause in this traditionally "red" state.
A final tally wasn’t immediately available Friday afternoon, but as of Wednesday, about 805,000 people had voted in the state’s 15 biggest counties, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s web site. More than 600,000 of those voters are participating in the Democratic primary.
The numbers far outpace the early turnout in primaries in recent years. In 2000, about 315,000 voters cast early primary ballots in the 15 largest counties. Less than 300,000 cast early ballots in the 2002 and 2004 primaries.
In Tarrant County, approximately 2,100 votes were being cast per hour on Friday, according to Tarrant County Elections Administrator Steve Raborn. In contrast, only 3,300 people voted in the county on the entire last day of early voting in 2004.
“We have never seen this kind of early voting turnout in a Primary Election,” Raborn said.
Republicans expressed concern that the unusually high Democratic turnout could spell trouble for Republican candidates in November.
“The numbers speak for themselves, there’s work to be done,” said Bech Bruun in an email to Republicans Friday. Bruun is the executive director of Texas Victory 2008, a project of the Texas Republican Party focused on mobilizing voters.
Yet even Republican primary turnout is high this year, just nowhere near the stunning results on the Democratic side, where some Republicans have taken advantage of the state’s open primary process to cast a vote in a still-disputed presidential race.
Causing unease around the state is how the soaring turnout will affect other races on the ballot. Some campaigns are expressing concern that there are likely more voters than usual who know little about the candidates in local races, making it difficult to guess how they may be deciding who to support.
Texas first installed a two-week period known as early voting back in 1988 as a way to boost turnout and address complaints of long lines for voting on Election Day.
As more Texans have become aware of the convenience, the number of early votes cast has steadily grown. In recent elections, early voters have accounted for over half of the total votes cast in some parts of the state.