There are just two days left to register to vote in a slate of hotly contested midterm elections set for Nov. 6.
In Bell County, registration numbers have seen an upward trajectory since the 2016 presidential election, a sign of the growing population in Central Texas but also an indication of increased interest in statewide races for governor and U.S. Senate, according to deputy elections administrator Matthew Dutton.
“Usually the biggest turnout we always have is presidential, but with this one, with it being such a contentious race for governor and senator, we’re treating it like 2016 numbers just to be safe,” Dutton said.
As of Friday, the number of registered voters in Bell County was 194,177. On Nov. 9, 2016, the number of registered voters was 187,166, Dutton said.
At the time of the November mid-term election in 2014, the number of registered voters was 168,747.
In Coryell County, there were 38,067 registered voters, as of Friday.
In Lampasas County, there were 13,979 registered voters, as of Friday.
With two days left to register, an online link to a voter registration application on the Texas Secretary of State’s website went down Saturday, according to the Texas Tribune.
The secretary of state’s office told the Tribune it was working to fix the broken link on its website. At 1:46 p.m. Saturday, the office tweeted an alternative link to the form and said “service will be restored as soon as possible.” A spokesman for the office said there was a “server issue.”
Texans who want to register to vote should fill out the form, print it, sign it and mail it to the voter registrar in the county where they live. Voter registration forms must be postmarked by Tuesday to be valid for the Nov. 6 election. Monday is a federal holiday for Columbus Day.
For those interested in registering in person, applications are available at county voter registrar’s offices.
Local registration drive
Some local advocates are also stepping up to get voters registered before the mid-terms.
Irene Andrews, the local representative for the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, has partnered with Starbucks to host Voter-Palooza on Tuesday. She described as “a 12-hour blitz of voter registration.”
The registration drive will be held from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Starbucks locations throughout Bell County.
“It felt like the last day to register to vote should be a Voter-Palooza day, and the people of Bell County should have somewhere to go that’s familiar to them,” Andrews told the Herald.
Andrews said that she knew that Austin had something similar in the past, and decided, “We needed to do something here.” She made the necessary contacts with Starbucks, got permission to hold the event, and the idea of Voter-Palooza became a reality. And response to her idea has been overwhelming.
“Many community members heard about it, then underwent the volunteer deputy registrar training just to help,” Andrews said.
There will be tables set up outside Starbucks locations, making it easy for anyone who has not yet registered to vote to do so, or to update their information if necessary.
This may include address changes, name changes due to a change in marital status, or if one has not voted in the last two elections. All anyone has to do is stop by a table on the way into or out of their usual Starbucks, or swing into a Starbucks on their way to or from work — Andrews and her volunteers will be there to help.
To be eligible to register to vote, residents must be 18 years of age, or will be 18 on or before Election Day on Nov. 6. People can also register their spouses, any eligible children and parents.
Andrews said that as a representative of the Silver-Haired Legislature, “I want to empower people to be a part of the political process. You have no voice if you’re not registered to vote to begin with. Your vote is your voice.”
For those who have registered, early voting will begin Oct. 22 and go through Nov. 2, and Andrews urges people to get out and vote early. She said that voting early will help people avoid long lines, as well as allow time for any corrections to be made should a problem arise.
But there is another reason she says people will want to vote early this year: Bell County has new voting machines, more of which will be available for use during early voting.
The new voting machines, called a ballot-marking devices, use touch-screen technology. Voters will be given a blank sheet of paper with a bar code, their “voter card,” which they will feed into the voting machine.
From there, using the touch screen, they will vote for their candidates by following the prompts given; voters will be taken to a screen at the end of their session to review their choices.
When finished, they will be prompted to print out their selections, and from there they will take their card to a digital scanner, called the DS200, and scan their card, which officially casts their ballot.
The DS200 takes a digital picture of the cards and stores the information on an internal memory card, and prints out the precincts’ tallies on paper once the polls close.
For voters who like the old-style ballot method of voting, they will have that option, but this will be the last election it will be offered.
However, Andrews said there are many benefits to the new voting machines.
First, if a person comes to a precinct not their own during early voting, the bar code assigned them on their voter card will let the machine know which precinct they belong to, showing the races for their precinct alone.
There are also safeguards in place to help limit error during the voting process, such as the chance to review their choices at the end of their session, and the printed copy the voter can review before scanning it into the DS200.
Andrews said the machines are also more cost-effective, using regular copy paper instead of card stock, which has also eliminated the need for pre-printing costs.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to the new machines is the security they afford the voter. Since the information is stored on an internal memory card, nothing is connected to the internet, so the system is unhackable, officials said.
“Voter confidence is so important,” Andrews said. “Our voters need to know their votes count and are secure.”
Visit wi.st/2E229IT for a short video demonstration on how to use the new voting machines.
For more information on Voter-Palooza, please visit bit.ly/2zW9tl6.
For those who do register, Nov. 6 will decide a number of contested races that have narrowed in recent weeks.
Topping the list is the race for the U.S. Senate between incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, who ran for president in 2016, and U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, who has outraised Cruz in recent months, despite his well-publicized ban on political action committee contributions, according to the Texas Tribune.
O’Rourke has outraised Cruz every reporting period but one since entering the race in March 2017, according to the Tribune. O’Rourke more than doubled Cruz’s fundraising in the second quarter, $10.4 million to $4.6 million.
In the race for governor, incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott will face off against former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, two long-time Republican incumbents will face female Democratic newcomers.
U.S. Congressional District 31 Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, will face off against Democrat M.J. Hegar, of Cedar Park, a former Air Force helicopter pilot. District 31 covers a swath of the Interstate 35 corridor north of Austin and most of Killeen.
U.S. Congressional District 25 Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, will face off against Democrat Julie Oliver, of Austin, a health-care professional and attorney. District 25 covers a nine-county stretch from west Austin up to the southern outskirts of Fort Worth.
At the state level, House District 54 will see a clash between two newcomers, with GOP nominee Dr. Brad Buckley, of Salado, facing off against Democrat Kathy Richerson, of rural Bell County.
Buckley defeated incumbent Rep. Scott Cosper, R-Killeen, in the May 22 runoff for the nomination.
Herald writer Matt Payne, correspondent Stephanie Ratts Grissom and the Texas Tribune contributed to this report.