13 Investigates analysis finds more ballots cast by suburban voters

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Harris County saw record-breaking voter turnout during the first three days of early voting, and this week exceeded registered voter turnout from previous elections.

On the 12th and final day of early voting in 2016, only 43.7% of registered voters cast a ballot either by mail or in person. As of Thursday night, about 55% of registered voters in Harris County cast a ballot with just one more day of early voting left, according to the county's unofficial totals.

More than 1.3 million of the county's 2.4 million registered voters have cast a ballot.

13 Investigates analyzed county data for every voter who has cast a ballot so far, both in person and by mail, and found voter turnout is down among minorities and lower-income communities. Instead, most of the county's votes are coming from the suburbs, where more voters live.

Every morning, Harris County releases a list of the names and addresses of everyone who voted early the previous day. The data doesn't provide any information on how they voted, but it does tell us where they live, and combined with demographics with the area, the data gives us a picture of what types of communities are voting.

Which neighborhoods are voting more so far and how did they vote in 2016?

The map below shows data on the percent of registered voters in each precinct who cast a ballot during the first 17 days of early voting. Friday is the last day for early voting. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The darker colors indicate a higher turnout of registered voters for that precinct and the lighter colors indicate a lower turnout. Slide between the two maps to see how each precinct voted during the 2016 election. Click each precinct for more details on voter turnout.

What kind of turnout has there been in the suburbs?

There are about 1,000 precincts in Harris County. 13 Investigates divided the precincts into three regions, including Houston's inner city inside the Interstate 610 loop, the area between the 610 loop and the Texas 8 Beltway, and everything else outside the beltway but within the county's more suburban areas. If a precinct overlapped I-610 or the beltway, we assigned those votes to the area where more homes appeared to be located.

Our analysis found the majority of the votes were in the suburbs, but when it came to the percent of registered voters who have turned out, those in the inner loop and suburbs had an equal turnout.

The map below has information on the total percent of registered voters who have cast a ballot. The colors are divided into three regions. The darker color within each region indicates more ballots cast by women.

Of all the Harris County residents who cast a ballot as of Thursday night, 14% of them were cast by people who live inside I-610, compared to 28% percent from those between the loop and the beltway and 58% from people who live outside the beltway in the county's more suburban areas.

Only about 10 percent of the county's population lives inside Loop 610 and more than half live outside the beltway, according to a Harris County population report.

An analysis of registered voter turnout in those three regions shows about 57% of registered voters who live inside the I-610 loop cast a ballot during early voting. It was the same in the suburbs, where 57% of registered voters who live outside the beltway cast a ballot. Only about 48% of registered voters who live in the middle region between the loop and beltway cast a ballot during early voting.

How does it compare to the last presidential election?

Our analysis found Democrats may not have voted early as much as they did during the 2016 election when you compare early voting totals so far to how votes were split during the last presidential election.

13 Investigates analyzed Harris County data for every person who cast a ballot in-person or by mail during early voting through Thursday night.

We don't know how people voted so far and can't predict the outcome, but the data does offer some clues as we compared it with how each precinct voted during the 2016 election.

If early voters in each precinct vote in the same proportion as they voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton or President Donald Trump in 2016, it would be an indication that early voting ballots are leaning toward Democratic nominee Joe Biden, but are still not as Democratic as they were in 2016 when Clinton won Harris County with 54.2% of the vote compared to Trump's 41.8%.

Voters change and the makeup of communities may have changed since 2016, too.

Still, our analysis found if early voting at each precinct is split the same way each precinct voted four years ago, then nearly 52% of the votes would be for the Democratic party versus 42% Republican.

How engaged are minorities and low-income voters?

Our analysis found minority communities are not voting early as much as white individuals.

When looking at the race and ethnicity of residents in each precinct, 13 Investigates' analysis of voter data found only 43% of registered voters cast a ballot in communities where more than half the 20-plus population is Hispanic. The Census demographics we analyzed provide population totals by age in five-year increments, which is why we looked at populations 20 years and older versus 18 years and older.

13 Investigates conducted a similar analysis of communities by race and found only 47% of registered voters cast a ballot in communities that are majority African-American, compared to 57% of registered voters early voting in majority white neighborhoods.

We also found lower-income voters are not turning out as much as high-income voters.

In Texas, the latest Census data for income shows the median household income in Texas is $64,034. In Harris County, 62% of registered voters have cast a ballot in communities where the median income is higher than the state's median household income, as of Thursday night.

Only 46% of residents in communities where the median household income is less than $64,034 have cast a ballot.

What's the overall turnout look like?

The 2020 election had six extra days of early voting compared to previous years, when there's typically 12 days of early voting.

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Harris County surpassed turnout for the last decade of elections on the 13th day of early voting, according to unofficial voter totals updated daily by the county clerk.

Votes through Thursday night, when Harris County held a 24-hour voting period, shows about 55 percent of registered voters have cast a ballot.

When it comes to new voters, about 4.8% of all ballots cast are from voters who were too young to vote during the last presidential election.

Specifically, as of Thursday night, about 57,000 of the in-person ballots cast were from voters born between 1999 and 2002. The county does not provide exact birthdays of voters, but did provide 13 Investigates with the year each voter was born.

Countywide, women are turning out more than men when it comes to in-person votes. About 43% of the in-person votes through Thursday night are from men compared to about 53% of ballots from women. The remaining percentage is for individuals who did not have a gender listed in data provided by the Harris County Clerk's office.

Statewide, 53.14% of the 16.9 million Texans registered to vote cast a ballot as of Thursday night.

Collin County had the highest early voter turnout statewide with 65% of registered voters who live there having cast a ballot as of Thursday night. Harris County ranks 44th in voter turnout compared to all 254 Texas counties.

Castro County, which has about 3,800 registered voters has the worst turnout, with only about 23% of registered voters casting a ballot as of Thursday night.

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