An election worker assists a voter in a postal vote on October 13, 2020 in Austin, Texas. On the first day of the election, voters waited for hours to cast their votes.
Sergio Flores | Getty Images
Texas has topped its 2016 voter turnout with four days to go, government officials said on Friday morning.
Voters have so far cast more than 9 million ballots in person and by mail, setting a new record in the state. According to the state's official record, 8,969,226 Texans voted in the 2016 presidential election.
The milestone reflects the high presidential turnout between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden across the country as the coronavirus pandemic has sparked unprecedented demand for early voting.
Since the last presidential election, Texas has gained approximately 1.9 million registered voters, The Texas Tribune reported. Approximately 53% of registered Texas voters have cast their votes by 2020.
Early Texas votes were spearheaded by Harris County, the metropolitan area of Houston and the third largest county in the country. Harris County's voters cast more than 1.3 million ballots in 2020. Experts say the county might be the key to turning Texas Blue around.
"Harris County is the tip of the spear for Democrats in Texas," Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, told NBC News. "It has to be a leading turnout to offset some of the Republican strongholds in rural parts of the state. Basically, Texas isn't turning around unless Harris County has an oversized turnout."
Democrats have long hoped that demographic change in the state of Texas could push it further to the left. While a Democratic presidential candidate hasn't won the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976, polls suggest the Republican stronghold could be a battleground in 2020. Real Clear Politics' poll average gives Trump a lead of just 3.2 percentage points over Biden.
The state's 38 electoral votes are considered a must for Trump. In 2016, Trump won Texas against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton with 9 points.
Texas does not report early electoral party affiliation, which makes it difficult to predict how parties' voter shares are going so far. NBC News has modeled that 53% of the early vote is from registered Republicans, while 37% is from registered Democrats and 10% is from unaffiliated voters.
Texas in-person early voting ends Friday. Because of the restricted voting rights for email in Texas, in-person voting is the primary form of voting. Some counties, including Harris, have implemented drive-through voting and expanded early voting sites to add voting options. More than 8 million Texans have voted in person, compared to 947,235 ballots returned by mail.
"What we see is if you build it, they come," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county's chief elected officer, told NBC News. "We learned that we cannot blame the voters for the historic lack of turnout. It was these obstacles."
Texas became the second state to surpass the 2016 total vote after Hawaii topped its 2016 voter turnout on Thursday. The record turnout has continued across the country.
According to the US election project, at least 83.5 million Americans voted in the 2020 presidential election. The early voting across the country has now reached over 60% of the 2016 votes.
While the Democrats have dominated the mail-in vote, the Republicans lead the in-person voting in states that report party registration. Of the approximately 30.8 million postal ballot papers returned and tracked by the US election project, registered Democrats sent 49.8%, compared with 26.1% for Republicans. Of the over 9.7 million registered personal votes, registered Republicans cast 41.6% of the personal votes, while Democrats held 36.1%.
Since the personal voting deadlines are approaching prematurely and the voting deadlines are absent, all eyes are on election day.