The Houston Chronicle has been keeping track of early voting figures, here in Harris County and elsewhere across the state, leading up to Super Tuesday. This article, published after the end of the early voting period, continues on this theme: that early voting turnout for the primary in Harris County is way up for Republicans and way down for Democrats compared with recent presidential election years. It's a similar picture in other populous counties in Texas.
(NOTE: You may need a digital subscription to view the entire article. I recommend it for Houstonians who care about local issues. Despite the online train-wreck that is chron.com, there's actually some good coverage and analysis to be found on houstonchronicle.com. Also note that I said some.)
Regarding primary turnout, on multiple occasions I have said something like, "BFD. Primaries are like pre-season games for people who feel passionately about their respective parties. Turnout percentages aren't all that relevant."
But I'm taking it back, or at least part of it.
If you really believe that turnout figures for primaries presage who will show up to vote in October-November, I understand, but the facts don't agree. If you're a Democrat who believes that this year's early-voting numbers are a harbinger of doom, get a grip. Let's focus on Harris County:
- In a typical general election, this county splits 55-44 for the Republicans, with other parties pulling the other 1%.
- Barack Obama's name on the ballot made those numbers closer to 50-50 in the 2008 and 2012 general.
- In 2008, about 410,000 Harris County voters turned out for the Democratic primary, compared to 171,000 for the Republicans. The ratio in early voting was similar. True, there was a large contingent of non-Democrats showing up as much to vote against Hillary Clinton as for Obama, but the general-election tally was nowhere near a five-to-two ratio.
- In this year's early-voting numbers, about 60% of the votes cast were in the Republican primary. That represents a bump similar to the general-election figures cited above, but certainly not the proportions
- My guess is that the Republican bump results from the presence of Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. Some of this represents enthusiasm for one of these two candidates; some of it, repulsion expressed in "Anyone But Cruz/Trump" votes.
I am avoiding the primaries myself because I still consider myself a Green, and voting in big-party primaries prevents me from participating in Green Party conventions for the rest of the year. But I still feel entitled to remind my Democratic-voting friends that there is a particularly well-qualified candidate for Harris County District Attorney who favors cite-and-release for possession of small amounts of cannabis—and that there's a particularly noxious one, to whose site I shall not provide a link.
The disappointing turnout figures on the Democratic side also reflect the worrisome phenomenon of enthusiastic support for Senator Bernie Sanders not translating into votes. If you wish, fair or unfair, blame the Millennials for showing up and cheering at the pep rallies and then not showing up at the game.
If this lack of follow-through keeps up, then all Jill Stein's talk of the Democratic Party's "kill switch" that prevents progressive candidates from winning will be rendered unnecessary: Sanders supporters themselves will doom their candidate by not showing up when it really counts. (The "kill switch" is the combination of the super-expensive Super Tuesday, the super-delegate factor, and insiders like Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz rigging the contest.)
So if you feel strongly and positively about your major party and its candidates, by all means, get thee to the polling place. Because I feel strongly negative about both major parties, I shall refrain.
And then there are people like Perry "P-Diddy" Dorrell, who play tactically on both the Democratic and Green sides of the field. Here are his choices in Tuesday's Democratic election.