Lone Star Mistake: Texas Democratic Group Flubs Early Voter Turnout Analysis

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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Battleground Texas, a group founded by alumni of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns that had high hopes of turning Texas blue, was forced to pull back an analysis it initially claimed showed a dramatic increase in early voting in Texas.

Such a spike, if accurate, would have been great news for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis who is running against state Attorney General Greg Abbott.

“A simple apples-to-apples comparison of early vote ballots from the available counties in 2010 to the same available counties in 2014 shows voter turnout in this election is significantly higher than four years ago,” reads an exuberant memo issued Friday by Battleground Texas senior adviser Jeremy Bird, an Obama campaign veteran.

In the 15 most populous counties, Bird wrote, “198,586 Texans have already voted by mail in 2014 according to the Texas Secretary of State. By this time four years ago, only 124,181 Texans had voted by mail in these 15 counties” – an increase of more than 60 percent.

The number of votes cast in Texas’ 70 largest counties increased more than 36 percent — from 1.09 million in 2010 to 1.48 million this year — according to Bird.

“The early vote number this year are very encouraging for Wendy Davis and the Democratic ticket,” Bird claimed, adding “all signs point to this being a fight to the finish.”

But Battleground Texas’ number were way off, a fact the group was forced to concede.

“These numbers are grossly wrong,” Republican consultant Ted Delisi told The Texas Tribune. “I can only assume they are trying to motivate their troops. But the overall early vote appears to be headed for a total very close to 2010.”

Based on the Texas Secretary of State’s data, Battleground Texas appears to have drastically under-reported early voting statistics for 2010.

A true apples-to-apples comparison shows that, as of the close of business for the last days of final voting for both cycles, 1.6 million in-person votes had been cast early in 2010.

That’s compared to 1.5 million for 2014 – which constitutes a six percent decrease between cycles.

When mail-in votes are included, 2014 saw approximately a 1 percent decline, from 1.732 million votes in 2010 to 1.716 million in 2014.

Early turnout is also down considerably in the most populous Texas counties, which Davis and Democrats will need to carry if they hope to have any chance of defeating Abbott.

According to the Secretary of State’s data, 171,243 voters from the five most populous Texas counties cast an early ballot in 2010. Only 160,078 did so in 2014. That is a 6.5 percent decline.

The poor showing comes despite an 8 percent increase in the number of registered voters. In 2010, 8.3 million were registered to vote compared to 8.98 million in 2014.

Battleground Texas pulled its memo on Friday with the group’s spokeswoman, Lynda Tran, telling the Washington Post that its analysis was “inadvertently based on incomplete data.”

The embarrassment — both the erroneous memo and the poor showing — comes as Battleground Texas tries to prove that Texas has potential to be a blue state. To do so, the group launched its hopes on Davis, a state senator who rose to national prominence last year when she filibustered a bill that would increase restrictions on abortion.

But despite an aggressive campaign and ample media attention, Davis’ campaign has faltered recently.

A CBS News/New York Times poll, the latest conducted in the race, shows Abbott leading by 20 points. If that gap holds up, Abbott will have defeated Davis by a larger margin than outgoing governor Rick Perry beat his Democratic opponent, Bill White, in 2010. Perry won that contest by around 13 points.

In an article published Saturday, Politico questioned whether Battleground Texas could sustain such a letdown.

“If they fail to move the needle in a meaningful way, I think it’s going to be hard for their benefactors to continue to invest in them,” Colin Strother, a Democratic strategist who supports Battleground Texas told Politico.

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