Double-edged sword: As voter turnout reaches all-time highs in Greater Houston area, so does risk of incomplete ballots

Early voting runs through Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3. (Adriana Rezal/Community Impact Newspaper)
Early voting runs through Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3. (Adriana Rezal/Community Impact Newspaper)

Early voting runs through Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3. (Adriana Rezal/Community Impact Newspaper)

As Texas voters flock to the polls for early voting in record-breaking numbers, Steve Leakey, president of the Montgomery County Voter Awareness Council, emphasized the importance of submitting a complete ballot.

“There are always a number of down-ballot issues, both partisan and nonpartisan, ... in every election,” Leakey said. “When these people otherwise vote but do not vote a complete ballot, each of the ballot issues or candidates that they do not vote in ... will be counted as an under-vote in that election.”

According to Leakey, under-voting typically worsens during elections with high voter turnout, such as this year’s presidential race.

So far, over 146,000 voters in Montgomery County have submitted ballots, and overall turnout has already reached just under 40% of all registered voters during this year's early voting period. In Harris County, more than 1.2 million Harris County voters have already cast their ballots via mail or in person since Oct. 13.

In addition to high voter turnout, Leakey said the repeal of straight-ticket voting in Texas earlier this year could also contribute to increased numbers of incomplete ballots in the 2020 election.

“There will be those ... who will choose not to go down through and mark every single candidate of the party that they would otherwise have voted straight-party for,” Leakey said.

However, Leakey added that even with the straight-ticket voting option, voters can oftentimes miss nonpartisan issues that appear at the end of ballots.

In some cases, under-votes—or those votes that were never cast for a particular race—can account for a large portion of total votes, as was the case with a 2018 November election for Conroe ISD board of trustees Position 1, in which under-votes accounted for 44% of total votes.

“There's ... a huge disparity between the win-loss margin and the number of people who were in the voter booth who did not vote in that election,” Leakey said. “So what we're trying to do is encourage voters to, in fact, do their homework [and] fill out a complete ballot.”

Leakey said he encourages voters to research candidates and other nonpartisan issues that will appear on ballots, filling out sample ballots and even taking those ballots into the voting booths. For more information, voters can visit the VAC “Voting 101” webpage.

“Does it take a little time? Yes, but our position, of course, is it's every citizen's responsibility to effectively and responsibly exercise their right to vote,” Leakey said.

Ben Thompson and Danica Lloyd contributed to this report.