If early-voting totals are any indication, interest in Tuesday’s primary election could be described as strong — at least in Bell County.
At the close of the two-week early-voting period Friday, 18,632 Bell County voters had gone to the polls — with more than 3,700 people casting ballots on the final day. The two-week total topped the count for the last presidential primary election, when 17,952 county voters cast their ballots during early voting in 2016.
It remains to be seen whether the county’s voters turn out heavily on Tuesday, Election Day. In 2016, a little more than 24,500 residents voted on the day of the primary election. That pushed the total number of primary voters to 42,468 — accounting for nearly 25 percent of the county’s 172,000 registered voters.
The question of turnout is an unknown that impacts political candidates at all levels of the primary ballot.
In a presidential election year, turnout can vary depending on whether an incumbent is running for reelection and the level of competitiveness on the opposing party’s ballot.
When Texas had its primary in 2008, Barack Obama was riding a growing wave of support that eventually brought him the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Bell County voters turned out in force, giving Obama 14,193 votes to Clinton’s 9,837 in the Democratic Party primary.
On the Republican side, eventual nominee John McCain received 10,451 votes from Bell County voters, outdistancing Mike Huckabee, with 5,639.
The large number of primary voters was an indication of turnout for the historic fall contest, which drew more than 90,000 county voters to the polls and resulted in the election of the nation’s first black president.
One of the key factors in the high voter turnout was the fact that there was no incumbent on the ballot, with both parties energized to choose a successful candidate for president.
Again in 2016, there was no incumbent president on either primary ballot, and the resulting record turnout in Bell County resulted in ballot shortages at several polling sites, inconveniencing voters and delaying election results.
Overall, a strong showing in Super Tuesday states propelled Donald Trump toward the nomination, although Sen. Ted Cruz won his home state of Texas that night — and Bell County.
This year, Trump is the incumbent president on the Republican primary ballot, with little serious competition within the party.
However, eight active candidates are vying for the nomination on the Democratic Party side, and turnout once again may be the deciding factor in who comes out on top.
Many Democratic Party strategists are already expressing concern that the party’s nominee for president could adversely impact down-ballot candidates in the November election.
And with Texas being one of 14 Super Tuesday states conducting primary elections this week, Bell County voters can have a considerable say in who that nominee will be.
However, it would be a mistake to assert that the presidential race is the only thing driving turnout in Bell County in this election.
Several competitive contests at the county and state level have drawn considerable voter interest during the current campaign.
In addition to races for statewide office, both the Democratic and Republican ballots feature county races for justice of the peace and constable.
The race for Bell County constable, Place 4, will feature three candidates in the Democratic primary and two on the Republican side. All all are hoping to succeed seven-term incumbent Republican Edd Melton, who is not seeking reelection.
Seeking the Precinct 4, Place 1 justice of the peace seat are two Democratic candidates and three Republican hopefuls.
The Republican primary also features a two-person race for the Bell County sheriff’s post, with the winner unopposed in the November election.
The GOP primary ballot also has a three-way race for 426th District Court judge, a seat currently held by retiring Judge Fancy Jezek.
Both parties’ ballots also have hotly contested races for Congress, in both District 31 and in District 25.
Longtime Congressman John Carter, R-Round Rock, has drawn eight challengers for his District 31 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives — three in the Republican primary, and five seeking the Democratic Party nomination.
District 25 Congressman Roger Williams of Austin will face a Republican challenger in the March primary, and two Democrats are vying for that party’s nomination, with the party winners to meet in November.
Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has 16 candidates challenging him for his seat — 12 Democrats and four Republicans — with runoffs possible in both parties.
Needless to say, this primary election has important races at every level of the ballot.
With that in mind, residents who did not vote during early voting should plan to do so on Election Day.
This year, that process will be even easier than it has been in years past.
Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., registered Bell County voters can go to any of 41 voting centers throughout the county to cast their ballots, no matter where they live.
That’s because the county’s new voting machines create ballots specific to voters’ individual precincts; as a result, each polling place is able to accept registered voters from anywhere in the county.
Once a blank ballot sheet is inserted into the machine, voters are guided through their potential ballot choices on a touch-screen monitor. Changes can be made at any point in the voting process. When voting is completed, the user simply taps a key and the machine prints out an official paper ballot with the choices appropriately marked. The ballot is then submitted to a machine for counting, similar to the previous vote-tallying method.
Voters who need more information about the candidates are welcome to read the Herald’s voting guide at kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics. On that site, users can also find candidate videos and other election information. Also, a full list of county voting sites can be found on the site and in the print edition of today’s Herald.
As with every election, the number of voters that turn out is vitally important — both to the candidates and to the electoral process as a whole.
If you haven’t already done so, take some time to cast your ballot Tuesday — and make that number just a little bit larger.