More Tarrant County voters than ever hit the polls early in this year’s presidential election, part of a record-breaking surge statewide as early voting ended Friday in Texas.
Before some people even sat down to breakfast Friday, local voters broke previous record turnout numbers from the historic 2008 presidential election. By lunchtime, nearly half a million local residents had voted early.
And by the time the polls closed — and at least one stayed open until about 9 p.m. — at least 480,960 Tarrant County residents had cast early votes in person and 34,231 mailed ballots had been received, local election records show.
“It’s fantastic,” said Frank Phillips, Tarrant County’s election administrator. “It’s good to see so many people exercising their right to vote.
“We did expect it,” he said. “A little earlier in the week, we thought there was a chance we wouldn’t surpass  turnout. But we did.”
Residents have one last chance — on Tuesday, Election Day — to vote.
A last-minute rush of early voters Friday evening created long lines at several polling sites. The Eagle Mountain-Saginaw school district Administration Building appeared to be the last site staying open late to let everyone vote who was in line before.
The previous record for early voting turnout was 2008, when Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain battled for the presidency, drawing 3.55 million votes early in person and by mail — from 42 percent of registered Texas voters — from the state’s 15 largest counties, state election records show.
Included in that tally were 459,842 Tarrant County votes, 431,799 in person and 28,043 by mail.
In 2012, fewer voters headed to the polls when Obama and Republican Mitt Romney went head to head, prompting 3.4 million Texas voters in the state’s 15 largest counties to cast early votes in person and by mail. That year, 39 percent of registered Texans cast ballots early.
That included 418,878 Tarrant County voters, 387,350 in person and 31,528 by mail.
Statewide, more than 4 million voters, or 41.05 percent, cast ballots in the 15 most-populated counties through Thursday, according to the most recent data provided by the Texas secretary of state’s office.
It’s easy to see why Texas voters broke turnout records this year, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.
“Texas’ voter turnout is artificially low because of minimal political competition,” he said. “The state is dominated by Republicans, so Democrats don’t see that their vote matters.
“This election season has put Texas in the tossup category, so voters are more inclined to vote because they believe their vote matters more.”
At the same time, more Texans than ever before registered to vote this year — 15.1 million.
Many voters are focusing on the presidential race at the top of the ballot, choosing between Republican Donald Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. There are also a host of candidates eligible to have their names written in, and be legally counted, in Texas.
But it’s not just about the battle for the White House.
Texans are also deciding congressional, legislative, statewide and county races, as well as local races to settle issues ranging from whether alcohol may be sold in some areas to whether the Texas Rangers should get a new ballpark in Arlington.
For any election related questions, call the Tarrant County Elections Office at 817-831-8683.