Across the state, early voting numbers are up. If recent trends hold, more than half of all voters will vote early rather than on Tuesday.
But some recent research suggests that having an early voting option may not actually be improving turnout in Texas.
Exhibit A: Researchers Barry Burden and Kenneth Mayer, two political science professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote in a New York Times Op-ed published last week that early voting actually depresses overall turnout. They argued that the availability of early voting dilutes the intensity of Election Day and prompts campaigns to spend less on Election Day turnout efforts.
"Controlling for all of the other factors thought to shape voter participation, our model showed that the availability of early voting reduced turnout in the typical county by three percentage points," Burden and Mayer wrote.
Exhibit B comes from two other political science professors, Elizabeth Rigby from the University of Houston and Melanie Springer of Washington University in St. Louis. They have a paper forthcoming in Political Research Quarterly on how electoral reform measures like early voting impacts whether wealthy and poor people are more likely to vote. Their conclusions dispute one of the main arguments for early voting -- that it makes it more convenient for people of all backgrounds to cast their ballot.
Ribgy and Springer argue that early voting tends to increase the inequality of voting in a state -- richer people vote in higher numbers while fewer poorer people cast ballots. They found this to be especially true in states where there already is a large split in voting patterns based on income. Texas has the fourth highest level of "income bias" in voting, behind Hawaii, Arizona and Arkansas, according to the paper.
Both sets of researchers offered the same prescription for improving voter turnout: allowing for voter registration on Election Day.