Early voting begins Monday with two new wrinkles to this year’s process in Hidalgo County.
Voters this year will have three more hours to cast their ballots during the early voting period, replacing the previous schedule of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to the new hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. This is during the early voting period from Oct. 23 to Nov. 3, except for Sunday Oct. 29, which will have locations open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The change in hours was voted on by Hidalgo County commissioners in mid-August, in part to give working voters a chance to cast their ballots during the week. The county will absorb the cost associated with extending the early voting hours for the November election.
Additionally, the Texas Secretary of State also approved a county-wide pilot program allowing voters to cast their ballots at any polling location in the county — this during early voting and Election Day.
Traditionally, voters must go to their assigned poll during early voting and Election Day. With the pilot program, voters can now cast their ballot at the location most convenient to them so long as it’s within the county.
The voting period kicks off with seven municipal races, seven constitutional amendments and a $5 million proposition on the ballots across two counties.
In the Edinburg mayoral race, incumbent Richard H. Garcia faces off with council member Richard Molina as well as a newcomer to the political arena, local immigration consultant Gina M. Alamia.
The 37-year-old Alamia, a Texas A&M University graduate and former educator, said she’s focused her campaign on employment and training. She may be running for the first time but she’s no stranger to the office. Her father, Richard Alamia, served as mayor of Edinburg for two terms, from 1981 to 1987.
The other challenger to the incumbent, Molina, who once served as a city police officer, has said he’s always had aspirations to be mayor.
Elected in 2013 to the city council, Molina has said that’s when he first noticed “things weren’t as they seemed” with the council and has recently been at odds with a tight-knit majority, which is on the same council that includes Garcia.
Molina is running to improve what he sees as a lack of transparency in the city, including basic maintenance and infrastructure throughout.
Both challengers to Garcia face a tall order, as the incumbent has held office for more than a decade over several tenures.
In addition to the mayoral race, spots for Place 1 and 2 are also up for grabs.
Place 1 candidates are Jorge “Coach” Salinas, Fern “Owls” McClaugherty and Richard Gonzales, while Gilbert Enriquez and Roland Villarreal are vying for Place 2.
Things have heated up after Donna city officials ruled one of the four candidates up for mayor “administratively ineligible,” for the position, after they claimed the candidate was not living within Donna city limits.
Incumbent Irene Munoz faces three challengers, Place 3 commissioner Simon Sauceda, Rick Morales, and the aforementioned “ineligible” candidate Ernesto Lugo.
Lugo, who has called the city’s claim a “political ploy,” remains on the ballot as the city’s claim is challenged.
Lugo insists his permanent residence at 2115 Lott Road in Donna was annexed by the city early this year despite the city sending out a news release declaring him “administratively ineligible” to be mayor following a residency complaint by a citizen.
Also on the ballot are Place 1 and 3 spots, and the municipal judge race, which is unchallenged.
Incumbent commissioner Sonia Gallegos for Place 1, faces off against Humberto Zavala, a police officer, and newcomer Oscar Gonzalez, a road and bridge director with the county.
On the Place 3 ballot for the vacancy left by Sauceda’s bid for the mayoral office are Guadalupe “Lupita” Bueno, Arturo “Art” Castillo, Beatriz Farias, and Adolfo Campos Jr.
Javier Garza is running unopposed for the municipal judge position.
In Weslaco, District 2 incumbent Greg Kerr faces former Weslaco Mayor Miguel Wise in the November election.
In the other race, this for District 3, political newcomer Jose P. “JP” Rodriguez, a longtime Rio Grande Valley lawman who served both on the Weslaco Police department and the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s office, is going up against incumbent Olga Noriega.
On the ballot in Edcouch, Virginio “Virgil” Gonzalez Jr. is running unopposed for mayor, while in Place 3 Robert Gutierrez and Fred Borrego Jr. hope to garner the majority vote. Place 4 race consists of Joel Segura and Danny Guzman.
In addition to the three races, voters in Edcouch will be asked to vote on a proposition that would extend the terms of those offices from two to four years.
Mary Salinas is running for re-election to the Place 1 seat on the council with Rose Treviño vying as the challenger.
In Place 3, challengers Aurora Ruiz and Rey Acosta are on the ballot.
In Roma, two candidates are vying for Place 4 to replace Carlos Gonzalez Jr., who resigned in August to pursue a job in Zapata.
The winner of the race in Roma will finish out the last year of Gonzalez’s term.
Candidates on the ballot are Joel Hinojosa Jr. and Joe Medrano.
Place 1 incumbent on the city commission, Amelia “Molly” Gallegos will face Trinidad “Trino” Medina.
For Place 3, Commissioner Robert “Mailman” De La Garza will go up against challenger Tomas “Tommy” Moncivais Jr.
Incumbent Celia Garcia is also on the ballot for municipal court judge, as she faces Veronica Moncivais.
In addition to local races, there are seven constitutional amendments on the ballots from this past Legislative session.
Two of the seven amendments — Propositions 1 and 6 — were supported by local State Rep. Bobby Guerra.
Prop 1 would help veterans who are partially disabled and whose homes may have been partly donated by a charity group, with the veterans paying some amount.
Currently, if a veteran receives a fully donated house, they receive a property tax exemption. However, the veteran who has paid some amount does not receive this same benefit. The goal of Prop 1 is to correct this oversight, and allow those veterans who have been able to pay for part of their home to receive the benefit of a property tax exemption, Guerra said earlier this month in a column.
Prop 6 would give the families of first responders some financial security and comfort that comes along with receiving a homestead exemption.
Guerra said this proposition would make sure that families in this situation are not forced to move or sell their home because of a sudden financial mortgage burden compounded with a tax on homestead.
Prop 2 would adjust expense limitations for a home equity loan.
Prop 3 would require governor appointees to leave office immediately even if no one has been appointed to replace them long after their term has expired.
Prop 4 would require any court hearing a suit challenging the constitutionality of a state law to notify the Texas attorney general.
Prop 5 would expand the list of professional sports teams in Texas that are allowed to do raffles to benefit charitable causes.
Prop 7 would allow credit unions and other financial institutions to institute programs which, in order to encourage savings, would award prizes based on luck or chance to the credit union’s or financial institution’s customers.