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23-year-old Texan flies home from California to cast his ballot as voter turnout surges

The 23-year-old said he’d had trouble with his mail ballot and wanted to be sure his vote counted. Voter turnout is up all across Texas for the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Updated Oct. 22 at 4:40 p.m. to include additional information about Bain’s voter registration.

When Texas Sen. John Cornyn saw the latest Texas early voting numbers on Monday, he asked his Twitter followers a simple question: “Who says voting in Texas is hard?”

Bradley Bain, a 23-year-old from Dallas and recent graduate of Pomona College in California, is one Texan taking exception because he’s finding it very difficult to vote. Bain lives in Claremont, Calif., but is still registered to vote in Texas.

“I’m literally spending >$400 to fly to Dallas and vote in person because you ‘accidentally’ flagged me as committing voter fraud in 2018, took me off the voter rolls, and made me ineligible to vote by mail in 2020,” Bain responded to the Republican in a tweet that had more than 176,000 likes as of Tuesday evening.

Bain hadn’t received a response for weeks after sending his absentee ballot application to the Dallas County Elections Department, so on Monday he booked a last-minute flight home to Dallas so he could vote in person.

“It’s been such a saga just to figure out how to vote,” said Bain, who cast his ballot Tuesday during early voting. “I wasn’t going to waste my opportunity to do so.”

Bain’s trip halfway across the country to vote captures the enthusiasm of Texas voters this election cycle — even in the midst of a pandemic.

As of Tuesday morning, after seven days of early voting, more than 4.6 million Texans had cast their ballots.

In each of Texas' 10 largest counties, turnout was higher than at the same point in 2016.

Harris County, which had 566,741 votes after seven days four years ago, had more than 720,000 this year. Dallas County had 326,149 at this time four years ago. This election, it was up to 392,774.

Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties — all battleground areas — also have higher turnout.

Texans have until Oct. 30 to cast their ballots early after Gov. Greg Abbott extended the early voting period in response to COVID-19. It is unclear whether the high turnout will keep up or die down as the end draws closer.

Thomas Gray, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Dallas, cautioned against reading too much into the higher early voting. The pandemic has changed the dynamics of voting, he said, and some groups, such as the Democratic Party, have strongly encouraged voters to cast their ballots early to avoid possible virus exposure in long lines.

“As a result we’re seeing huge numbers across the country but also in Texas,” Gray said. “The main question is, how much of this is cannibalized voting — people who are voting now but would have voted on Election Day? That’s why we’re so cautious of overinterpreting.”

Seeking the youth vote

Democrats have hung their hopes on new and younger voters, like Bain, flocking to the polls during a crucial presidential election.

Bain said he successfully voted absentee during the 2018 midterm elections. But he was told he couldn’t vote when he went in person to a polling place for the 2019 Dallas mayoral election because of an issue with his 2018 ballot, and his efforts to vote by mail were unsuccessful during this year’s primaries.

The Dallas County Elections Department, which administers elections and voter registration, did not respond to requests for comment. The Secretary of State’s office said Bain’s registration remained active after the 2018 elections.

Despite the obstacles he faced, Bain wanted to cast his vote in Texas rather than California because he views the state as his home and “would love to see it go blue.”

But, living in California, he said, he’s seen how much easier it is to cast a ballot there than in the Lone Star State: “Seeing from all my friends how easy it is to vote in California or in other states, and how hard Texas actively makes it, I think it’s a huge problem.”

Charlie Bonner, communications director for MOVE Texas, a group that targets young and underserved voters, said people ages 18 to 30 are showing high interest in the election and that is translating to more people in that demographic voting early.

“Youth voters are not early voters. They generally vote on Election Day,” Bonner said. “To see this increase even in the first week of early voting is incredible.”

Bonner said he was encouraged by data from Target Smart, a Democratic political data firm, showing that voters in that age bracket nationally are surpassing their share of the voter turnout in the last presidential election. So far, the group says, voters ages 18 to 29 have made up 8.7% of the ballots cast nationally, compared with 6.7% in 2016.

In Texas, that same voting bloc has 10.1% of early ballots cast so far. That demographic made up 12.5% of ballots cast in early voting in 2018 and 13.4% in 2016, according to Ryan Data and Research, a Republican consulting firm.

Priscilla Yeverino, a hub coordinator and founder of Sunrise Movement Dallas, which urges young voters to support candidates who commit to fighting climate change and economic injustice, said her group is urging voters to vote early to avoid any problems that could arise on Election Day.

Gray, the political scientist, said voters and political campaigns shouldn’t read too much into the early vote numbers. Though many Democratic core groups have already voted, Republican voters are likely to show up in the remaining days, he said.

“It’s very likely there will be some equalizing once we get to Election Day.”

Correction, 4:16 p.m., Oct. 22, 2020: A previous version of this story said Bain believed his voter registration had been cancelled after a 2019 effort by the secretary of state’s office to take noncitizens off the voter roll. No voters were taken off the voter rolls during that effort. The Secretary of State’s office said Bain never had his voter registration cancelled.

Correction, 5:30 p.m., Oct. 21, 2020: Bradley Bain completed his degree from Pomona College in May but will receive his diploma this December. An earlier version of this story said Bain is a senior at the school and graduates in December.

James Barragán. James Barragán covers Texas politics for The Dallas Morning News. He has covered immigration, public safety and voting rights and has traveled on assignment to the U.S. Supreme Court and Houston during Hurricane Harvey. Before joining The News in 2017, he worked for the Austin American-Statesman and The Los Angeles Times.

jbarragan@dallasnews.com /JamesBarraganNews James_Barragan

Paul Cobler, Politics Reporting Fellow. Paul Cobler covers politics for The Dallas Morning News in Washington, DC. Paul is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked at the school's student newspaper, The Daily Texan, and interned for newspapers across the state.

paul.cobler@dallasnews.com @PaulCobler
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