Party Chairman John Young concedes that Galveston County Democrats haven’t exactly been beating the get-out-the-vote drum over the past six months.
The party had high hopes for increasing participation after the election of Donald Trump in 2016, and Young had high hopes that the wave of political activism could be harnessed into increased voting power at the polls.
Voter reaction to the Trump presidency is on the minds of national political strategists in both parties who are planning for November’s midterm general election and pondering what those results might portend both for the administration’s second two years, and the race for the White House in 2020. They have paid special attention to Texas, which this year has the earliest primaries in the country.
Locally, some of the high hopes and grand plans among Democrats were dashed, however, by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. The storm flooded Young’s home, and destroyed some party records. The recovery process also limited his ability to organize, he said.
“A lot of our Democratic Party activists that sort of lead our outreach, quite a few of them got flooded,” Young said.
It came as something of a surprise, then that with little effort, Galveston County Democrats have so far doubled their turnout in early voting for the Texas primaries.
Through the first five days of early voting, turnout is up 47 percent over what it was in 2014, according to turnout data from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.
Democratic turnout has doubled, from 1,084 early votes in 2014 to 2,168 votes this year. Republican early turnout also is higher, with 6,249 early votes, a 33 percent increase.
Texas voter turnout is up overall as well. Through the first five days of early voting, Democrats had increased their early vote totals by 186 percent, by a total of 14,487 votes. Republican votes had increased by 2,954 votes or about 17 percent, statewide.
Galveston County Republican Party Chairman Carl Gustafson and Vice Chairman Hank Dugie did not return phone calls and messages seeking comment about Republican voter turnout Monday afternoon.
The increase in Galveston County may be particularly notable because there are few locally contested races on Democratic Party ballots. Most of the races on the ballot are statewide, the highest profile ones are competing for U.S. Senate and Texas governor. On the local level, there is one race for justice of the peace, one for a county-court-at-law post and a U.S. Representative seat.
But Young didn’t credit enthusiasm for any of those races as the reason for the turnout.
“I attribute a lot of that to the tweeter-in-chief and Fox News,” he said.
He also credited the Galveston County Young Democrats for helping to get the word out about voting and candidates. The group helped organize candidate forums before voting started, he said.
That group is a fairly new entry into the local political scene, Young said.
“We didn’t really have a functional Young Democrats group until this past year,” he said.
In Galveston County, there are far more local Republican races, including contests for county judge, two county commission seats and district attorney.
Still, despite the early gains, Texas voter turnout is historically one of the lowest in the country. In 2014, the last midterm elections, only 28.5 percent of voting-eligible Texans voted in the midterm elections in November.
Early voting continues through Friday. Polls are open at early voting locations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the remainder of the week.
Election Day is March 6. Polls will be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. that day was well.