The Prospector

Early voting surges in El Paso

Hundreds+stand+in+line+for+the+first+day+of+early+voting+at+UTEP+at+Union+East+on+Thursday%2C+Oct.+25.+
Hundreds stand in line for the first day of early voting at UTEP at Union East on Thursday, Oct. 25.

Hundreds stand in line for the first day of early voting at UTEP at Union East on Thursday, Oct. 25.

Gaby Velasquez

Gaby Velasquez

Hundreds stand in line for the first day of early voting at UTEP at Union East on Thursday, Oct. 25.

Andrea Valdez-Rivas, Staff Reporter

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Claudia Hernandez
Hundreds stand in line for the first day of early voting at UTEP at Union East on Thursday, Oct. 25.

This year’s midterm election has proven to be pivotal for El Pasoans. The highly contested senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Beto O’Rourke has been one of the most publicized races in the country and has caused a surge of early voter turnout in Texas, with El Paso leading the state in turnout numbers on the first day of early voting.

Early voting started off strong with a total of 17,294 votes cast on the first day alone. With this number, El Paso broke a first-day early voting record. Compared to the 2014 midterm elections, a mere 17,799 voters took off to the polls in the first five days of early voting.

KVIA’s exclusive 2018 election analyst, Robert Moore, says that El Paso is on its way to cast at least 180,000 votes, which surpasses a previous record of 103,000 votes in 2002. Since the first day of early voting and through Nov. 1, over 123,000 ballots were cast and about 14 percent of those ballots were cast by voters that had no prior voting history in El Paso.

This midterm election has encouraged first-time voters to vote as well. According to Moore, about 60 percent of this year’s voters did not vote in the 2014 midterms and nearly 20 percent did not vote in the 2016 presidential election.

With Texas showing some of the lowest voter turnout numbers in the country, it came as a surprise that a relatively large amount of people showed up to cast their ballots this year. El Paso County Elections Department’s election administrator Lisa Wise agrees that this year, voter turnout has surpassed 2014 numbers.

(Voters are) much more active,” Wise said. “Obviously, we’ve seen a much higher turnout and we’ve seen a higher turnout an entire spectrum. We’ve seen an increased turnout in younger voters, who generally tend to be the least engaged in a number of voters.  We’ve seen across, brand new people coming into the city who maybe just moved here but normally don’t vote. But they’ve hurried up and updated their (voter) registration so they can come in and vote. We’ve seen a lot of activity from different campaigns and we’re taking a lot of calls with questions of ‘where can I vote?’ ‘Am I registered?’ There’s just a lot of activity going on right now.”

Wise also receives questions from El Pasoans about candidates on the ballot. Precisely, candidates in the Senate race. She believes that the Senate race is what’s mostly driving people out to the polls. Having someone like O’Rourke, a native El Pasoan, encourages El Pasoans to vote, specifically young El Pasoans

According to an analysis of county elections from KVIA, the number of young voters in the 18-29 age group skyrocketed throughout the first week of early voting, with a 58 percent increase from the last midterm elections. Making up nearly a quarter of registered voters in El Paso, the percentage of voters in that same age group grew during each day in early voting.

Particularly, more than half of voters in the 18-29 age group are women. But even with high turnout numbers, it’s still somewhat difficult to know what Election Day (Nov. 6) will look like in terms of voter turnout. Either most voters have already come out during early voting or the record-breaking numbers will be expected to increase.

“It’s kind of been 50/50 but now it’s almost starting to get to 70/30. But obviously we’ve already surpassed our 2014 numbers,” Wise said, describing how many voters would turn out during early voting and on Election Day. “I think we’ll get pretty close to 2016 (general election numbers), at least with early voting. And I don’t know, then, what Election Day will look like. We’re going to anticipate it’s going to be pretty high, just based on early voting. But you never know if everybody’s kind of come out already, if they will come out again.”

There are still other factors that may affect voter turnout on Election Day. Campaigns may act before Election Day by going door-knocking or hosting rallies. Media coverage could also drive people out to the polls or hold them back from going.

Throughout the 12 days of early voting that ended on Nov. 2, over 139,000 people cast their ballots. That was an increase of over 100,000 from the 2014 midterms. Moore says that this is an increase of more than 100,000 from the 2014 midterms. Regardless of what kind of action will take place right before Election Day, Moore expects that voter turnout will increase on Election Day, finishing around  180,000 to 200,000 voters or even more.

Registered voters who did not have the chance to vote during the early voting period will have a 12-hour window to hit the polls on Election Day, starting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information on where to vote, visit epcountyvotes.com.

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Early voting surges in El Paso