By MATT BLOIS
The strong early voter turnout in this year’s August primary is the continuation a trend of increased early voting since it started in the mid 1990s.
More than 20,000 people voted early in Williamson County this month. Compared with a little over 11,000 voters in the August 2014 primary, the last statewide primary before a midterm election.
The number of voters varies widely depending on which offices are on the ballot, but Williamson County Election Administrator Chad Gray said that the popularity of early voting has risen steadily.
“Early voting has really changed how voters in our county cast ballots,” he said. “More voters are taking advantage of early voting. I don’t know if it’s because of schedules or what, but it’s really changed how voting takes place in general.”
In the August 1994 election just over 10 percent of the votes were cast during early voting. The proportion of early voters in primary elections has increased consistently since then. More than half of the votes were cast early in the August 2016 primary.
In the November 2016 presidential election, about three quarters of voters cast their ballots early.
If the elections from earlier this year are any indication, that trend will likely continue. Early voters accounted for about half the votes cast in the February tax referendum and the May primary.
According to state law, early voting begins 20 days before an election and ends five days before an election. The election commission’s office in each county has to be open that entire time, but counties can also open other locations.
Gray said the changes to voter behavior has had an effect on how candidates run their campaigns, too. With so many people voting up to 20 days before an election candidates need to get their message out earlier.
The voter turnout for this year could be hard to predict, Gray said because there hasn’t been an election with quite the similar profile in years. Still, he said getting lots of votes early is a good start.
“It’s all about convenience. Voters think there will be lengthy lines on election day and they want to avoid that. No one wants to wait in line,” Gray said.
Election day is on Thursday, August 2. There are more than 40 polling locations that will be open between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.