Central Texas voters have a tough act to follow.
With early voting in the Nov. 6 presidential election getting under way Monday morning, area residents will have some work to do in order to surpass the turnout from 2008’s presidential race.
That historic election drew more than 90,700 of Bell County’s 162,200 registered voters — a noteworthy 55.96 percent turnout. The figure mirrored a statewide turnout of 59.5 percent, with more than 8 million Texas voters casting ballots.
Also noteworthy is the fact that more than half of Bell County’s voters turned out during the early voting period in November 2008, with 63,748 residents going to polls.
The county may not see record vote totals this election, but with the presidential race tightening recently and several other key races farther down the ballot, there’s no reason turnout shouldn’t top 50 percent once again.
Bell County Clerk Shelly Coston said last week she is anticipating a high-turnout election and is making preparations accordingly. She points to the fact that her office has already received 6,000 requests for ballots by mail. By comparison, in 2008 her office received 8,000 requests for mail-in ballots altogether.
Coston also noted that 2,000 of those mail-in ballots have already been returned for processing.
As was the case with the 2008 election, voters will decide several important contests at the ballot box, beyond the presidential race.
One race drawing statewide interest is the contest to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Vying for the office are Republican Ted Cruz, a former state solicitor general, and former Democratic state Rep. Paul Sadler.
Other statewide races on area ballots include a race for railroad commissioner, contests for three seats on the Texas Supreme Court and races for Places 7 and 8 on the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Area voters also will elect four justices for the 3rd Court of Appeals.
In addition, area residents will choose between Republican Tom Maynard of Florence and Democrat Judy Jennings of Austin for the District 10 seat on the State Board of Education.
At the local level, Bell County voters will select the county’s first new sheriff since 1984, as Sheriff Dan Smith is retiring after 28 years in the job. Seeking the office are Republican Eddy Lange and Democrat Frank Hernandez Sr.
Bell County voters who live in Precinct 1 will decide the race for commissioner between incumbent Richard Cortese, a Republican from Little River-Academy, and Democratic challenger Irene Andrews of Nolanville.
In Killeen, voters will choose between two hometown residents for the District 54 state representative’s seat. In that race, three-term incumbent Jimmie Don Aycock, a Republican, will square off with Democratic nominee Claudia Brown, a former Killeen councilwoman.
And far-western Bell County residents, along with voters in Coryell and Lampasas counties, will help select a U.S. representative for the newly drawn District 25. Republican Roger Williams, Democrat Elaine Henderson and Libertarian Betsy Dewey are vying for the seat.
Local races are on the ballot for some Central Texas residents. Both Nolanville and Copperas Cove will conduct city council elections, and Copperas Cove Independent School District residents will select a school board trustee. In addition, Copperas Cove voters will decide the fate of 18 proposed amendments to the city charter as well as a bond issue for a new fire station.
Obviously, a lot is at stake in this election, from the community level up to the presidency.
It’s incumbent on all registered voters to go to the polls — and with a lengthy early voting period and expanded polling hours, there’s no excuse not to.
In Bell County, early voting starts at 8 a.m. Monday and continues through Nov. 2. Six polling locations are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays this week and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays the following week. All polling locations will have weekend hours — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 28.
A full list of early-voting locations can be found in today’s Herald on page B1, along with articles on many of the races and ballot issues.
Clearly, local voters have every opportunity to cast their ballots, no matter what their work and personal schedules may be. Voting is the purest exercise of democracy. It’s not just a hard-earned right, but a privilege we must not take lightly.
When presented the opportunity — over the course of two weeks — to have a say in the selection of our leaders, including the top elected official in the land, how can we say, “No, thanks”? Let’s make our voices heard and our votes count — starting Monday.