The race to replace John Zerwas in the U.S. House of Representatives has the potential to continue a significant shift in the political landscape of Fort Bend County.
It appears voters were eager to make their voices heard as county officials say the seven-candidate race for the District 28 seat was likely behind a spike in early voting turnout over the last few weeks.
Results for the special election, held Tuesday, were not available before press time. Visit fortbendstar.com for election results.
According to Fort Bend County Elections Administrator John Oldham, just shy of 29,000 voters cast their ballot in person from Oct. 21-Nov. 1. That number represents roughly 6.5 percent of the county’s 444,658 registered voters, according to the Fort Bend County Clerk’s website.
Oldham said the early voting total represents about a 38 percent spike from the 2015 election cycle – the last time a Houston mayoral race was included – when 20,850 voters cast their ballots early. It more than doubles the early turnout from two years ago, when the county had roughly 12,000 in-person voters.
The most significant factor in the increased turnout, Oldham said, is likely the hotly-contested competition to replace Richmond’s Zerwas. Though the candidate pool is largely Republican, Democrats all over the state and even across the country have been trying to push Eliz Markowitz to victory in a district historically controlled by Republicans, with Zerwas having held the Fort Bend County seat since 2007. He stepped down in August after being named Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs for the University of Texas system.
“This is the first time we’ve had a legislative seat on the ballot in November,” Oldham said. “Those types of elections seem to spike things for us.”
The Republican candidates in District 28 were Houston anesthesiologist Anna Allred, Rosenberg businessman Gary Gates, Katy businessman and former Drug Enforcement Agency official Gary Hale, Katy attorney Tricia Krenek, Richmond saleswoman Sarah Laningham and Katy engineer Clinton Purnell. If none of the candidates received at least 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held between the top two vote-getters.
It appears the race has drawn increased interest in the area, Oldham said, as nearly half of those turning out to vote early did so within District 28 – including at the county’s Fulshear location, where Oldham noted about 2,300 ballots were cast in person compared to just 927 during the 2015 election cycle.
“The city of Houston turnout is down from what it was, and things have dropped off considerably in areas outside of District 28,” he said. “Many of our sites outside Houston or District 28 had turnout flat, or even down, from four years ago.”
In Sugar Land, Oldham said turnout was very light, with only state constitutional amendments and flood mitigation bonds on the ballot. In Missouri City, he said voter turnout was spurred by the multiple city council spots being up for grabs.
“Typically, Election Day voting in Fort Bend tends to follow the early voting patterns,” Oldham said. “It will be spread out over more sites, but it’ll tell us the same thing.”