Elections

First-day early primary voters smash GOP turnout records in Tarrant County

Republican presidential candidates are motivating Texas Republicans to head to the polls on the first day of early voting. The candidates gathered for the Feb. 13 debate in South Carolina. From left, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, businessman Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Republican presidential candidates are motivating Texas Republicans to head to the polls on the first day of early voting. The candidates gathered for the Feb. 13 debate in South Carolina. From left, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, businessman Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. AP

Tarrant County Republicans shattered their turnout records Tuesday as early voting kicked off for the March 1 presidential primaries in Texas.

By mid-afternoon, more local Republican ballots had been cast than through the end of the first day of early voting in the past four presidential primaries.

“It’s exciting,” said Frank Phillips, Tarrant County elections administrator. “Look at the primaries that have proceeded us — Iowa and New Hampshire. Turnout was large there too.

“I don’t know why we would be any different,” he said. “And this is Day One. It usually climbs all week.”

By the end of the day in Tarrant County, Republicans cast 4,617 ballots in person and Democrats cast 2,922 ballots in person, local election records show.

Although several candidates have dropped out of the GOP presidential race, the battle for the nomination in both parties is alive and well.

That’s why officials have long said excitement about making a difference in the race for the White House this year could motivate more than the usual number of the state’s 14.1 million registered voters — more than 1 million in Tarrant County alone — to vote this year.

But it’s not just about the presidency.

Tarrant County voters will also weigh in on a slew of elections stretching from Congress to the Legislature to the local courthouse, not to mention picking leaders for the county Republican and Democratic parties.

Early voting runs through Feb. 26.

Having a voice

Presidential elections generally draw the largest turnout.

In the 2004 primary in Tarrant County, 332 Republicans and 472 Democrats turned out on the first day of early voting, state records show.

Then Texas, a large state that generally has a small voice in the battle for the White House, drew nationwide attention for Democratic turnout in 2008.

That year, local Democrats weighing in on the primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton broke turnout records.

On the first day of voting that year, 5,732 local Democrats voted, compared with 2,606 local Republicans.

In the next presidential election, numbers went down on the first day of voting: 2,147 Republicans and 798 Democrats in Tarrant County cast ballots that day, records show.

This year, it’s the crowded and contentious Republican presidential race — which pits Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and more — that’s jump-starting GOP turnout.

And Democrats are choosing between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who are embroiled in a feisty battle for their party’s nomination.

“Competitive elections, especially presidential races, spur voter turnout,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston. “The Texas primary comes at the most critical time in the history of the state’s primary contests.

“Texas is both delegate rich and well positioned in the sequence of primaries to make a major impact,” he said. “Voters know how important the state is in the process and are rushing to the polls. Weeks of anticipation for the presidential and legislative races has taken hold and voters are active in making their voices heard.”

Hunt for delegates

In Texas, 155 GOP delegates and 252 Democratic delegates are up for grabs — a big prize for candidates seeking support on Super Tuesday.

Harris County election officials are among those expecting Republican turnout to continue to grow.

Locally, some of the highest Tarrant County voter turnout totals were logged at the Southwest subcourthouse on Granbury Road in Fort Worth, the Bedford Library, at the Mansfield subcourthouse and at the South Service Center in Arlington, records show.

“It is easy to understand [high turnout] since the Republicans are mad at their own as well as the Democrats,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “And there are some big personalities in the Republican Primary like there was for Democrats in 2008.

“Also, first days of early voting bring out the most committed and those self-motivated,” he said. “The Republicans have not had such a bountiful primary in a long time with so many candidates.

“They all want a part in the process.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

To learn more information about candidates on the March 1 ballot, check out the online Star-Telegram Voters Guide.

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