BY STEVE CLARK
Nearly as many Cameron County Democratic voters have already cast their ballots in the current July 14 runoff election as did in the last runoff during a presidential election year, according to an unofficial count.
That’s according to Elections Administrator Remi Garza, who noted that as of July 8 the number was just under 2,000 voters shy of the 2016 early voting tally, already having exceed the 2018 turnout and with the last two days of early voting still to go. According to the elections department, 9,251 Democratic voters took advantage of early voting between June 29 and July 8. The Republican total for the same period was 295.
Garza said he thinks the turnout is a sign of voter confidence in the safety of early voting sites, where the elections department has implemented a number of safety protocols, combined with high interest in this particular election.
“ We’ve gotten a very positive response from people who go into the polls to vote,” he said. “They appreciate the steps we’ve taken and they feel safe, and they like it. In fact, I’ve been told on more than one occasion that after they finished voting they called their family and friends and told them that they should go do it, because it’s safe and they need to vote.”
The fact that the 2020 runoff is seeing numbers nearly equal to 2016, and may even exceed them, is “pretty surprising and great” considering the pandemic, Garza said.
“ We took a lot of steps because we wanted to make sure that people would feel comfortable in the polling place,” he said. “The poll workers all adapted to everything we asked them to do. They understand the importance of the protections that we’re putting in place, and taking it in good spirit when they have to go outside in this heat to assist somebody on curbside voting.”
Looking ahead to November election, Garza said he anticipates a substantial turnout.
“ In November it’s going to be a completely different challenge,” he said. “We think that a lot of people are going to want to participate in the November election. I think that will be true throughout Texas and throughout the country.”
The number of applications for mail-in ballots, meanwhile, has been higher than usual, Garza said, attributing it mainly to more voters 65 or older (and thus eligible in the eyes of the state to vote by mail) taking advantage of the option in the name of safety during the pandemic.
“ We had about 1,000 more applications submitted between the primary and the runoff — over 1,000 I would say,” Garza said. “And so our participation for this election on the ballot by mail has increased significantly. Very rarely have we had a situation where between the primary and the runoff there’s an increase in the ballot by mail. This one is pretty significant. We’ve already gotten close to 2,000 back. We’re just waiting for those last ones to come in to see exactly where it’s going to land. When you factor that in, it just gives me the idea that we are going to have a pretty good turnout.”
A good turnout by Cameron County standards isn’t necessarily a great turnout, Garza conceded.
“ There are still a lot of people who still aren’t coming to the polls, but it’s something that we see every year,” he said. “In Cameron County, unfortunately, less than half of the people who are eligible to vote participate in the major elections. We trail the rest of Texas and the nation.”
Garza said he wishes he knew why, so his department could address it.
“ We’ve seen changes based on candidates,” he said. “We’ve seen changes based on voter engagement. Different factors in each election seems to have an impact on it. Trying to find the exact formula to engage everybody at the same time has proven difficult.”
The United States being a representative democracy, those who don’t vote are simply giving up their constitutional right to have their voices heard, Garza said.
He asked that county residents who are planning to exercise their rights under the Constitution check their newspaper or the elections department website to find their polling locations, since they sometimes change, and familiarize themselves with sample ballots before heading to the polls in order to get in and out faster. Today (July 10) is the last day of early voting. Election Day is July 14.
Finally, for anyone concerned about voter fraud, a citizen’s best defense is to vote, Garza said.
“ The best way to secure your vote is to use it,” he said.