Early voting turnout reaches record high

Of registered voters, Baylor and Waco alike show lower voting participation when compared to the national averages, but this year seems different. Graphic by Emileé Edwards | Photographer

By Vivian Roach | Staff Writer

By closing on Wednesday, 48,264 votes were recorded in McLennan County. The Chairman for the McLennan County Democratic Party, Mary Duty, said the county has seen record-breaking voter turnout each day since early voting opened on Oct. 13.

“The 2016 election had a total at the end of the election of 79,000 votes. If we continue at this pace, we will be over 110,000 votes in the early voting period — not to mention the actual election day on Nov. 3, so we’ve seen an exponential growth in voter turnout,” Duty said.

McLennan County had 136,333 people registered to vote in the 2016 general election, around 55% of the population, and 59.08% of registered people voted. 156.7 million people in the U.S. were registered to vote in 2016 — roughly 64% of the population — and around 87% of those actually voted.

A great deal of the votes in the last week were from brand new voters and young voters, Duty said.

Dr. Mito Diaz-Espinoza, associate director at Baylor for civic learning initiatives, said they have provided student voters a shuttle to take them to the polls. They had 38 students sign up Tuesday and several more signed up for the following Tuesday, he said.

“We have also had about 40 students that attempted to register for the shuttle, but weren’t registered to vote in McLennan County,” Diaz-Espinosa said. “So we provided information to them about voting by mail or finding where and when they can vote in their hometown’s county.”

In a 2016 report from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), registration rate at Baylor was 81.1%, and 50.7% of those registered actually voted, while all NSLVE colleges had a 70.6% voter registration rate, and 68.5% of those registered voted.

Patty Castillo, president of the McLennan County Republican women, said they have registered many new voters themselves. Block walking was still possible during COVID-19, she said, so they went around knocking on doors and talking to people — from a distance — about how to register to vote.

“The group that we report through, which is the Texas Federation of Republican Women, has registered more new voters than in any other election, so we’re very happy about the work that is being put in.”

The McLennan County Democratic Party also committed to voter registration, Duty said.

“We had a record number of brand new voters that we signed up in the last month and a half before voting registration closed,” Duty said. “We’ve hit a lot of benchmarks. People are really wanting to be a part of whatever’s happening in 2020.”

On Tuesday, the returned mail totaled 8,652 votes. Duty said mail-in votes and absentee votes are just expressed as a ballot count for now, not for or against any candidate.

Even the mail-in vote counts have surpassed those in previous elections, Duty said. The amount of voters has had to be accommodated for, allotting more days and more people to count ballots in the days leading up to the election. One voting center in McLennan County, Duty said, has also had to expand to a bigger room.

“We used to be in a room that I’ll say was 30-by-30 [feet]. The room we’re in now is bursting at the seams, and it’s literally five times larger than that one room,” Duty said. “As recently as two elections ago we were in this tiny little room, with six sorting machines, and now we’re in this gym. That’s the way it is across the district. We have sort of doubled the number of machines, and it seems to me people are making good use of those machines. People are really anxious to vote in this election.”

Another accommodation made for voters who don’t want to vote in-person because of exposure to the coronavirus is Governor Abbott’s decision to allow a box at an election office in each county to be available for voters to submit their ballot, Duty said.

Castillo said the jump in voters this election year is not just because of the competitiveness of the candidates, but what is happening currently in the country.

“There’s so much at stake in this election and that’s why more people are wanting to vote,” Castillo said. “People are scared about what’s happening in our country and people are afraid about where the country is going. So I don’t think it’s necessarily competitiveness of the candidates, I think it’s people who feel it in their homes, they feel it in their jobs, all parts of their life. And that’s making them come out and vote.”