DALLAS (AP) — More than 1.7 million Texans in the state's 15 most populous counties voted early in the 2010 midterm elections, an increase of about 656,000 votes compared to the 2006 midterms.
The early voting figures released Monday by the Texas Secretary of State's office show nearly 21 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots early, compared to about 13 percent in 2006.
The state's 15 largest counties make up nearly two-thirds of the 13.3 million registered voters in Texas. Texas has 254 counties, though many are sparsely populated.
Early voting ended Friday in Texas. The general election is Tuesday.
Southern Methodist University political science Professor Cal Jillson said the higher turnout reflects both an increased comfort level with early voting and concern over the economy. He said he expects higher turnout on Election Day as well.
Dallas County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet said based on early voting figures, he predicts turnout will be five to six percentage points higher than it was four years ago.
"Interest is definitely up in this election," Sherbet said. "People are fired up and want to vote in this election. Both parties are engaged."
In Galveston County, nearly 28 percent of eligible voters voted early, the highest percentage among the 15 counties. The most early votes were cast in Harris County, with nearly 445,000.
Early voting in Texas has been around since 1987. Before then, generally only people who had an acceptable excuse — such as being out of town on Election Day — could vote early, Sherbet said.
The move to 12 days of early voting hasn't succeeded in its intended effect: increasing voter turnout, Sherbet said. But it has been "wildly popular" with voters who appreciate the convenience.
"They like to have one of 12 days to go vote anywhere they want to," Sherbet said.