How early voting could impact Fort Bend Co. congressional race

RICHMOND, Texas (KTRK) -- Fort Bend County has experienced record voter turnout and political experts believe it could help a congressional race turn blue for the first time in 14 years.

Fort Bend County has smashed voting records so far. Nearly 70% have voted, which is the second highest percentage in the state. On Election Day, voting will be even easier.

"We had 30 early voting locations," Fort Bend County Judge, KP George said. "Now, tomorrow we're going to have 84 voting locations."

Even though early voting numbers should come back quickly, 160,000 people haven't voted.

"It all depends on turnout," Fort Bend County Election Administrator John Odem explained. "If we have 55,000 people vote, I think we'll be done by 11 p.m. If we have 80,000 people vote, it may be 1:30 a.m. to 2 a.m."

One race, Rice University Political Science Professor Mark Jones believes, that could be decided late is that of the 22nd congressional district between Troy Nehls and Sri Preston Kulkarni.

"If I had to make an even money bet, I'd put my money on Nehls," Jones said. "But if you gave me any odds on Kulkarni, I'd probably vote with him."

Two years ago, Kulkarni nearly beat incumbent Pete Olson. With the Republican retiring, Kulkarni ran again.

Nehls is no stranger to Fort Bend County. He was elected twice as the county sheriff.

A Democrat hasn't won the seat in 14 years, but the gap has closed. Six years ago, the Republican won by 40 points. Two years ago, it was 5%. Fort Bend County demographics have changed. The Asian population has increased by nearly five percent from 10 years ago.

"Demographics play a small role, maybe 3-5% can be explained by demographics, but the real explanation is Donald Trump," Jones said. "Were Donald Trump not the president of the United States, Texas-22 would not be in play in 2020."

Jones said early voting could determine how quickly the 22nd congressional race is called. If Kulkarni is up by five percent or more, we'll have to wait until Election Day results to determine the winner. However, if Nehls won the early vote, or is close, Jones believes it could be an early call because Nehls should have a stronger Election Day turnout.

"This is one of those races that I think is a pure toss-up," Jones explained. "Both Nelhs and Kulkarni have a realistic prospect to victory."

Regardless of results, it'll be a tight race that will give Fort Bend County a new representative for the first time in 12 years.

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