Election Ticker: As First Ballots Cast, Is Turnout Surging, Lagging, or Both?

Get your vote on in this week's "Election Ticker"

Early voting for the 2022 midterm election at LBJ School of Public Affairs (Photo by John Anderson)

A total of 25,343 people had their minds totally made up in Travis County and cast their ballots on the first day of in-person early voting Monday, Oct. 24. Combined with the more than 10,000 mail-in ballots already received by the county clerk, just under 4% of the county's registered voters dispensed with the 2022 election cycle as soon as possible. Is that a lot? Opinions differed on Tuesday. The Travis County Democratic Party hit the "worry" button with a scoldy e-blast: "I'm not going to sugar coat this, we are behind. We URGENTLY need volunteers …" etc. But progressive organizing outfit Ground Game Texas' Julie Oliver in her e-blast said, "After the first day of early voting, we're feeling pretty good." Are they both right? Sorta! The TCDP is comparing turnout to 2018 numbers for Travis; Ground Game is looking at surges all over Texas. In Harris County, the more-than-60,000 first-day early voters were more than expected. As we went to press, the latest numbers show Travis with 60,336 votes cast – 6.8% turnout, about 35% behind the 2018 pace – Williamson County with 33,458 (8.1%), and Hays County with 14,063 (8.4%).  – Mike Clark-Madison

County Says It's 100% Staffed for Elections

As early voting began this week in Travis County, election officials have prepared for an influx of new voters – around 19,700 have registered since the March primaries. Travis County Clerk Rebecca Guerrero said the county is prepared with more machines and more poll workers to oversee the election. "I think we are in a very good place for this election," Guerrero said. "We are 100% staf­fed for early voting and for Election Day, and we also have a backup list, in case … someone was to get sick or not be able to work."

Guerrero recommends voters visit votetravis.com to see the sample ballot for where they live, polling locations, and estimated wait times for those locations. There are 38 polling locations open Mon.-Sat., 7am-7pm, and Sun., noon-6pm, including five "mega-center" locations with more machines and workers to help voters cast their ballots. The mega-centers will stay open until 9pm on Saturday, Oct. 29, and Friday, Nov. 4, the last day of early voting. For the primaries in March, voting hours were extended due to bad weather; Guerrero said the county has opted to keep those hours, as "we think it's very important to have voters come out at the time that is best for them."

There have also been concerns about possible voter intimidation, as armed groups guarding drop-off boxes make the news, and threats against poll workers have risen in recent years. Travis County paid attention to these warning signs; Guerrero said her office is working with local law enforcement to ensure a safe and secure voting experience. She said many people still tend to wait for Election Day to vote, but "early voting is there because we have a very large community. We want to ensure we don't have very long lines on the last day."  – Laura Morales

Five Highlights From the LWV Mayor Forum

Five of Austin's mayoral candidates had a chance to (briefly) introduce themselves at the Oct. 20 forum sponsored by the city and the League of Women Voters. Here are a few excerpts that stood out to us.

Gary S. Spellman on homelessness: The co-founder of Ultimate Face Cosmetics has actually experienced homelessness, which brought compassion even as a member of the "purple party" (i.e., a little red and a little blue). "We have to serve the needs of the homeless person, we have to treat them with dignity and respect, and we have to give them a clear path to getting back on their feet," Spellman said, adding that unhoused people should not be "demonized [because] they're down on their luck."

Kirk Watson on Austin Water: The former mayor and state senator reminded voters we still need to find a replacement for Greg Meszaros, who retired in February. That person, Watson said, must have "a vision for the department" that makes sense as water scarcity increases on a warming planet. But they also need deep managerial experience so that they can "empower people" and make sure "there are redundancies in place" so that boil water notices don't become the new norm for Austin Water's more than 1 million customers.

Celia Israel on retaining city employees: The state rep. agrees that Austin's municipal workers need to be paid more as the city gets more costly, but she also points to the top. "There's a lack of leadership from the city manager and the mayor and Council," Israel said. "There are good and decent employees at the city who are not getting the support that they need when they have a creative idea or solution. … We've got to make sure that they are heard and respected."

Jennifer Virden on core municipal services: The leading Republican found a way to answer just about every question with a reminder to "fully" staff the Austin Police Department. She said that's a noncontroversial position (probably correctly) of the type she'd favor, avoiding issues she thinks are controversial, like Project Connect, which was approved by nearly 58% of Austin voters in 2020.

Phil Campero Brual on consensus: We thought that was Watson's brand, but the 21-year-old UT student says he can do it too. "Consen­sus is easy; most of the world lives between the two parties," he said, referring to Democrats and Republicans. "Most of this world is ready to reach across the aisle and that's what I've been doing my entire life."  – Austin Sanders

WilCo Complaints Bring Up Election Protection

There may be some trouble brewing in certain Williamson County polling locations. A woman voting at the Georgetown ISD Admin Building (at 603 Lakeway Dr. in Georgetown) posted to Facebook Tuesday to warn voters that they should not be asked for their voter registration card at a polling location if they show valid government-issued ID. She said two workers asked her for her voter registration information on top of her passport.

The Williamson County Democratic Party saw her post and also a report of a candidate talking to voters right outside a Sun City polling location, WCDP Chair Kim Gilby told the Chronicle, and County Elections Administrator Chris Davis reached out to both locations to "solve any issues." The WilCo Democrats also work closely with the state party's Voter Protection team; Gilby said WilCo voters who are concerned about intimidation or other issues should immediately contact both the county party and the Texas Dems' team at 844/TX-VOTES (898-6837). You can also call the Texas secretary of state's helpline at 800/252-VOTE (8683) to reach state attorneys who can answer questions and assist, or the national Election Protection Hotline at 866/OUR-VOTE (687-8683) or, for Spanish, 888/VE-Y-VOTA (839-8682). – Maggie Q. Thompson

The Rest of the Ticker

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who remains under indictment for felonies that may someday cost him his voting rights, announced Monday that he's establishing a 2022 General Election Integrity Team. That's all – no names of members, no description of its duties, just some boilerplate voter guidance and assurance his office "remains ever vigilant." We'll keep you updated… U.S. Sen. Tío Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., will be in Texas this weekend to stump for Latinx progressives Greg Casar in Austin (who doesn't need the help) and Michelle Vallejo in McAllen (who definitely does)…

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