By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
It's the final week of early voting, and if this year's numbers are any indication, voters who don't want to be sitting in line for hours Nov. 4 should hop to it.
Bell County officials say thatvoting early is much easier than Election Day, since any voter can vote at any of the six polling locations; the same is not so on Election Day, when voters must go to a designated precinct.
Another 4,995 Bell County voters visited the polls Monday, bringing the total to 38,810 since early voting began Oct. 20. That single-day figure is 1,144 below the record from a week ago.
With four days remaining in early voting, Bell County is on pace to eclipse the 2004 record by the middle of this week.
The main hiccup seen thus far in the election is the rumor that many ballots were being voided because voters picked straight ticket for one party, then voted for a candidate in another party elsewhere on the ballot.
Totally false, says Bell County Election Clerk Jana Henderson, who said the county and state offices have been flooded with phone calls about it.
The straight-ticket vote only affects races left blank on the ballot by the voter.
Once you vote straight party, she said, it just means that all the remaining candidates will receive a vote for that party unless you specify otherwise by marking the other candidate.
The distinction is particularly crucial in House District 55, which has a hotly contested seat between several parties, particularly Republican Ralph Sheffield and Democrat Sam Murphey.
Last March, the primary election drew a record 41,000 voters. Henderson said she ordered double that number of ballots.
Henderson said that she's also given specific instructions and classes to staffers to avoid any confusion for voters when they enter.
Voters must vote twice this year – once in the special election up front, and once on the back page.
Henderson said that since the special election for the two-month unexpired period is first on the ballot, she's instructing every staff member to tell every voter that the one for the two-year term is on the back of the ballot.
Colleen Rhoads, an election judge in Harker Heights, noted that they get used to saying it over and over.
"We've been very careful to point it out to every voter," Rhoads said last week. "We called their attention to the fact that the special election was before, and that they needed to fill that in no matter what, whether they voted straight party or not."
The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Friday. The polls will then close and open again on Election Day, Nov. 4.
Residents can vote in any of the six polling locations in the county during early voting. On Election Day, however, they have to vote at one of the designated 49 precinct locations.
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7568.