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What does early voting’s first day mean?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Election officials across Texas reported record turnouts for a nonpresidential election on Monday, and the first day of early voting for the midterm elections in Travis County was no exception.

In Travis County, 6 percent of registered voters cast ballots – including 34,737 who cast ballots in person and 12,668 voters who mailed in their ballots. The number exceeds the 33,000 votes that were cast the first day of early voting in the 2016 presidential election.

A record 15.6 million Texans registered to vote this year and Travis County had a record 779,393 registered voters.

Evidently, many of them couldn’t wait to get out and vote. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said many people had been waiting for this election day since the day after the 2016 presidential election. Last night, enthusiasm was so strong that one official said 1,000 people voted between 7 and 8 p.m.

That left election officials sitting in their offices late Monday night adding up the number of voters who appeared at each of the early voting locations.

In Austin, voters stood in long lines to cast their ballots, not only for federal and state offices, but also for City Council, school board and community college races, seven bond propositions, two cleanup provisions and two controversial proposals put on the ballot by citizens’ signatures.

For the question of whether the first day’s turnout really means that on Nov. 6 Travis County will have a true groundswell of voting, the Austin Monitor turned to Peck Young, a seasoned political consultant and director of the Center for Public Policy and Political Studies at Austin Community College.

“I frankly think that people are excited, excited about this election – because of what’s going on in the country, and a lot of people are excited about Beto,” O’Rourke, the congressman from El Paso running against Sen. Ted Cruz, he said.

“I have no idea who the people are who are turning out, but I know in terms of the station at (Austin Community College), there were young people out there at 6 o’clock this morning standing out there to vote. And it’s a big station, and it’s taking an hour to vote at that campus. I think you’ve got at least an initial surge of enthusiasm” this time, he said. He said that this year that enthusiasm is not just among those who always vote, but also a lot of younger people, who stood in line with their phones and their iPads and their books, knowing they would be there for quite a while.

Young added, “I think this election has stirred enormous interest, my guess is on both sides, and they want to vote and get their ballot in.”

But Young cautioned that the best days in early voting statewide are the first day, the last day and the next-to-last day. He said he expects 60 percent of the overall votes to be cast before election day, which would not be a good thing for Democrats. “I may be wrong, but I think if the Democrats have a chance of winning they need this kind of enthusiasm on election day.”

To really gauge voters’ enthusiasm, Young said, look at how many people vote on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. “The question is will they still be standing in line on Wednesday,” he said.

DeBeauvoir said Young could be right and that she herself plans to vote on Wednesday. She does not want anyone standing in line, and that’s why the Travis County Clerk’s Office has a helpful map on its website where voters can go to see which polling places have lines and which do not. DeBeauvoir contends that even though some polling places were packed all day Monday, others saw few voters. That’s why it is important to make a plan rather than waste time standing in line, she said.

In addition to all the permanent early voting locations, there will be a temporary polling place at City Hall Monday, Oct. 29, through Friday, Nov. 2.

Photo by Jo Clifton.

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