Go time: Elections chief expects big start to early voting

With early voting starting today in Cameron County, elections administrator Remi Garza wants to remind voters that straight-ticket voting will not be an option this year like it was in 2018.

The straight-ticket feature, which let voters select a major party’s candidates for every office on the ballot with a single mark, was outlawed by the Texas Legislature in 2017 in time for the 2020 election. That means voters should know how they’re going to vote before going to an early voting site, Garza said.

“They need to make sure they know who they want to vote for as they’re coming into the polls so that they can make good choices,” he said. “Please look at the sample ballots.”

Garza said he’s worried some voters will try to mark their preferred party in the Legend of Party Affiliation box on the ballot, thinking that they’re voting straight-ticket, but that it won’t work and may disqualify the ballot.

Voters are getting an additional week of early voting this year due to the pandemic. Also, in addition to the usual early voting sites around the county, three “super center” drive-through and walk-in voting sites are set up thanks to two grants the elections department won: $1.8 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life and nearly $251,000 from the University of Southern California (Arnold) Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy. The super centers are located at the Brownsville Event Center, the Harlingen Convention Center and the Port Isabel Event and Cultural Center.

That makes 24 early voting site throughout the county, though county commissioners today were to vote on adding a 25th site, in Santa Maria, Garza said. Every early voting site has ballots for every county precinct, he said.

The majority of the early voting polls will open at 9 a.m. today.

Voters must bring a valid photo ID or approved form of identification with them to the polls to be able to vote. Approved alternatives forms of ID are listed on the elections department website, cameroncounty.us/elections. Voters can also go to the website to find early voting sites as well as the locations of polling places on Election Day, Nov. 3, or call the elections office (956) 544-0809.

Voters can also use the website to track their mail-in ballots, which can also be dropped off in person at the elections office, 1050 E. Madison St. in Brownsville. Voters can also call the elections office to track their mail-in ballot. The office can also be reached by email at elections@co.cameron.tx.us.

Key county contests this year include the sheriff’s race between Democrat Eric Garza and Republican John Chambers and the district clerk race between Republican Virla Veronica Deaton and Democrat Laura Perez-Reyes.

Voters will also be casting ballots in elections for the Brownsville Independent School District Board of Trustees, Texas Southmost College Board of Trustees and the Brownsville Navigation District.

They will also be voting in the presidential election and the race for U.S. Senator, plus many others.

Elections administrator Garza said he anticipated a lively start to early voting today.

“We have this additional week, so people are going to get a chance to start voting earlier,” he said. Historically that first day of early voting is one of the busiest days that we have. We’re anticipating getting approximately 80,000 people voting early, so it could be as many 10,000 people voting on that first day. The first two days and last two days of early voting are usually the busiest.”

Garza said he’s expecting as many as 125,000 eligible county voters to turn out for this election, compared to the previous records, about 93,000 for the 2016 presidential election and 72,000 for the 2018 mid-term.

“Historically we’ve seen approximately 46 to 47 percent turnout,” he said. “I really think we’ll hit the 50 percent mark. It would be historic on so many different levels.”

Garza was given the opportunity the pitch to eligible voters why it’s vital that they exercise their civic duty.

“I just think in any democracy, when the citizenship doesn’t participate it weakens it,” he said. “We have to vote as part of our duty as Americans.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com