It’s about to get real.

After weeks of media saturation with newspaper accounts, TV sound bites and attack ads, as well as yard signs and robocalls, Central Texas residents finally get a chance to have their say.

Monday is the first day of early voting for the Nov. 6 election, and if voter registration numbers from the last few weeks are any indication, turnout could be surprisingly high.

But that’s as it should be.

High-powered races can be found up and down the ballot for Killeen-area voters — from the hotly contested U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Beto O’Rourke, to the battle between incumbent Rep. John Carter and challenger MJ Hegar for the District 31 congressional seat.

Add in the District 25 congressional race, the governor’s race, the District 54 state representative contest and the election for Precinct 4 Bell County commissioner, and residents would seem to have ample reason to flock to the polls over the next two weeks.

In addition, voters in Copperas Cove and Gatesville have both municipal and school board elections to decide.

Unfortunately, midterm elections have traditionally low turnout — abysmally low, in fact.

In the 2014 midterm election, just 26 percent of Bell County’s voters went to the polls, according to county election archives.

In real terms, that translated to just over 44,000 of the county’s 168,700 voters casting ballots. This was despite the fact that several statewide races were up for grabs, including the governor’s race, in which incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott faced a challenge from Democrat Wendy Davis.

This year, however, interest has been high — at least as far as voter eligibility. Bell County election administrator Melinda Luedecke says a record number of people registered to vote before the Oct. 6 deadline. Since the last midterm election in 2014, more than 25,400 people have been added to the county’s voter rolls.

The county now has more than 194,000 registered voters, a new record for the county and a 15 percent jump from this point four years ago.

The growth in voter rolls is also reflected statewide. More than 15.6 million Texans are registered to vote in the Nov. 6 election — a significant jump from the 2014 midterms, when about 14 million residents were registered.

Of course, as political organizers readily acknowledge, it’s always difficult to predict how many registered voters will show up at the polls. Turnout is the key — no matter which political party you’re talking about.

One major factor in turnout is ease of voting. For Bell County voters, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Starting Monday, polls at six sites across Bell County will be open to accommodate early voting — two locations in Killeen, one in Harker Heights, and one each in Belton, Temple and Salado.

Polls will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day this week, including Saturday. Next week polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and each site will also be open noon to 5 p.m. next Sunday.

That’s 122 hours of voting at each site over the next 12 days — plenty of opportunity for voters to get to the polls.

Another advantage of voting early is that residents registered in Bell County can vote at any one of the county’s six polling sites — no matter where they live.

That is extremely convenient for people who live in Temple and work at Fort Hood or those who may reside in Killeen or Harker Heights and work at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Temple or the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton.

Bottom line, neither voting times nor locations should be used as an excuse for not casting a ballot in the upcoming election.

In an effort to help voters make informed decisions at the polls over the next two weeks, the Herald has published an election guide to preview several races of interest to Killeen-area residents. That guide can be found in today’s edition and includes Q&A’s with candidates in key races, helping voters see where they stand on a variety of issues in a side-by-side comparison.

From races for city council to the U.S. Senate, the guide is designed to provide insight into where the candidates stand and help readers choose accordingly.

The guide also contains important voting information, such as early voting times and locations.

Over the next two weeks, Central Texas voters have the opportunity to shape the way our government looks and works — from the courthouse to the statehouse, from City Hall to the Senate.

Voting is a privilege we must appreciate and apply. To pass on the chance to be heard in the voting booth is a missed opportunity that serves to diminish our democracy.

Make plans now to go to the polls during early voting, or on Election Day, Nov. 6.

Too much is at stake to sit this one out. | 254-501-7543

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