By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
BELL COUNTY – At the end of the first day of early voting Tuesday, a total of 1,368 people in Bell County voted, with 751 voting Democratic and 617 voting Republican.
"It's a lot," said Jana Henderson, Bell County election clerk. "In November, if we ended the day with 500, we'd be lucky."
Results of which candidates received the votes will not be available until polls close on March 4.
Henderson said she'll use today's numbers to gauge how the rest of early voting will go. She said the second week of early voting is usually busier than the first.
"I think it's going to be a really large turnout," Henderson said.
Al Waite, government professor at Central Texas College in Killeen, said early voting increases turnout.
"I think it helps ... It allows you to vote at your convenience," Waite said.
Waite used himself as an example, He lives in Morgan's Point but teaches a class at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, which makes it difficult to find time to vote on election day. But early voting allows him to vote on a less busy day.
Waite said in early voting and on primary election day – March 4 – he expects a higher than usual turnout for several reasons.
Waite said what will likely draw the most Central Texas voters for the March 4 primary election will be the District 55 state representative race. There are four Republicans – John Alaniz, Mike Pearce, Ralph Sheffield and Martha Tyroch – battling for the nomination to go up against (unopposed) Democrat Sam Murphey and Libertarian Chris Lane.
"A lot of people will be going out in the area because Dianne White Delisi's seat is up," Waite said.
Delisi announced in September that she would not seek re-election after serving nine terms.
"There will probably be a runoff," Waite predicted.
Waite said he expects a high number for the presidential primary race.
"In both the Democratic and Republican primaries, they should get a pretty good turnout," Waite said.
Democratic candidate hopefuls U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, of Illinois, and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, of New York, are neck and neck in vying for the nomination.
"Texas really means something this year," Waite said.
And while U.S. Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, has pretty much secured the Republican nomination for president, that may not sit well with voters in states yet to have primary elections.
"Texas, like most southern states, is more conservative," Waite said, noting staunch conservatives may want to vote for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee or Congressman Ron Paul, of Texas, for the Republican nomination to make a statement.
Waite said he foresees high voter turnout to continue in the future despite the race.
"I expect that a trend would be voter turnout in our area would grow," Waite said, noting the population has increased including more permanent residents than in the past.
Early voting in Bell County began Tuesday and will run through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will continue Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and Feb. 25 through 29 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Contact Kevin M. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7550