Early Voters Head To Polls For Runoffs
By ADAM RUSSELL
Harry and Carol Jones waited for the elevator alongside a growing pack of Smith County early voters Monday afternoon. They had just cast GOP primary runoff ballots at the Election Department on the fifth floor of the annex building.
Jones said races for U.S. Senate and Smith County sheriff were the main draw. The same answer is common among voters.
"They're important (races)," he said. "We want the best people in there."
Voters showed up at most of five voting locations early and often Monday. Between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Election Administrator Karen Nelson said the downtown location was "swamped" with voters. Lines stretched the hallway to the elevators at one point before noon. The stream of voters coming and going remained steady throughout the day, she said.
At the end of the first day, 2,203 early ballots were cast. More than 900 mail ballots had been received. The mail ballots were an extraordinary number, Mrs. Nelson said, well above average for a primary election, much less a runoff.
The aberrations may mean Smith County will buck an expected abysmal statewide turnout. Poor turnouts are expected because the redistricting battle left voters and candidates in the lurch for months and pushed party primaries from March 6 to May 29.
Around 2 million of the state's 13 million registered voters, or about 15 percent, showed up at primary polls on May 29.
Smith County Republican Party Chairman Ashton Oravetz said the highly contested race for sheriff has captured local interest and will mean above average turnouts for the county.
Oravetz said the state is expecting 20 percent of the 2 million primary voters to cast ballots. He is hoping around 50 percent of almost 28,000 Smith County Republicans who cast primary ballots return to the polls July 31. There are around 119,000 registered voters in Smith County.
Smith County Republicans have four races to decide on July 31, including U.S. Senate between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz; Smith County sheriff between Chris Green and Larry Smith; Precinct 3 county commissioner between incumbent Terry Phillips and Ronnie Pilcher; and Precinct 3 constable between Jim Blackmon and Scott McAuley. There is a Democratic runoff for U.S. Senate between Grady Yarbrough and Paul Sadler for Smith County voters to consider.
Voters who cast primary ballots for Republican candidates must vote for Republican runoff candidates. The same goes for voters who cast ballots for Democrats in their party's primary.
Voters who did not cast ballots during the primary are free to choose either party's runoff ballot, but only can vote in a single party's runoff.
Mrs. Nelson said voters typically vote early to avoid long lines and having to go to specific precinct locations on Election Day.
Most of the opening day voters cast ballots at the downtown election office, but more than 300 visited each of the remaining locations, except for the Heritage Building, 1900 W. Bellwood Road, which reported 48 voters.
Voters can cast ballots at any of five locations. Mrs. Nelson said the Annex Building is the most prevalent voter location because it houses the Election Department but not the most convenient for some voters.
The city has opened eight parking spots for voters, and parking lots are typically at capacity during the early part of the week for jury pools. Voters can avoid downtown parking problems, security screenings, which are required to enter the Annex Building, and elevators by visiting other sites.
"Voting early is usually about convenience so I would think about 'where is the quickest, easiest place to vote," he said. "The Heritage Building is more easily accessible and typically has the lowest turnout."
After waiting and watching the throng of exiting voters fill the elevator, the Jones' headed for the staircase.