Hidalgo County voters were slow to the polls on opening day of early voting, but nowhere was it more evident than at the Election Annex building in Edinburg.
The polling location is traditionally the most-visited site across Hidalgo County, and perhaps the most chaotic, but by Tuesday afternoon, even the candidates campaigning there noticed a difference.
“I’ve been in several campaigns, and this has been, by far, the most calm campaign — no friction or anything like that,” said Edinburg Place 3 candidate Juan “Johnny” Garcia.
Garcia and three others — Carlos Jasso, Deanna “Coach” Dominguez and Marc Roque — are vying for the seat Councilman Homer Jasso Jr. is vacating. But at least two of them, Garcia and Jasso, are unsure what will happen if none of them secure more than 50 percent of the vote.
Garcia said he’s inquired with the city about whether the person with the most votes would win, or whether the top two vote-getters would go into a runoff election.
“Back in ‘96 Mayor (Joe) Ochoa said plurality vote would be the winner, but his son Omar Ochoa (the current city attorney) says the Texas Constitution says you must win 50 percent plus one. So it’s kind of interesting nobody’s been able to give us a straight answer,” Garcia said.
Edinburg Councilman David Torres — who is running to keep his Place 4 seat against former Edinburg Police Chief David White — also noted the different atmosphere outside the Annex.
“It’s been busier before in other elections, but it’s good. It’s calm. Everybody is being cordial and just running their camps and trying to get the vote out,” he said.
Gone were the fights and yelling matches that peppered the now infamous 2017 municipal election, which featured a contentious mayoral race that is under investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
“We got to make sure there’s change in our city,” White said, referencing the AG’s investigation that led to the arrest of almost two dozen people, including the sitting mayor and his wife. “We need to get out of the national news. We got to get out of the focus of the AG’s office. So we need to bring our people out to vote for change.”
But voters appear slow to come.
Nearly a thousand people voted at that site on the opening day of the early voting period in 2017 — almost double Monday’s 511.
“With everything going on — all the accusations of voter fraud, accusations of retaliation — I think it’s made people detach a little bit from the whole process,” Garcia said, “because even the numbers have been down.”
It’s important to note, however, that Edinburg voters can cast a ballot at any of the other 27 polling locations throughout the county and not all of the voters who cast votes at the Edinburg polling location are voting in that particular jurisdiction.
Still, those who have kept a close eye on Edinburg voters, like longtime Edinburg Municipal Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios, noted a drop.
“It’s not a high voter turnout, and a lot of people are a little scared about that,” he said.
Palacios was forced to actively campaign this year for the first time in more than two decades.
“I was elected in 1994, and have run unopposed since. So I’m a little rusty (at) this, but I’m here again. Twenty-five years later, I get an opponent,” he said about the challenger, Edinburg attorney Alma Garza.