Mail-in ballots up, overall tally down during early voting

The number of mail-in ballots increasing substantially from 2018 was among several notable happenings last week, the first several days of early voting for the primary runoff.

Through five days of early voting, there have been 2,989 mail-in ballots cast, whereas the 2018 primary runoff election saw 1,948 mail-in ballots cast, an increase of 1,041.

While the mail-in ballots have seen a considerable increase, overall voting has decreased since 2018.

The 2018 primary runoff saw 8,621 total votes through five days. The 2020 primary runoff has seen 7,291 votes so far, a decrease of 1,330 votes.

Early voting for the 2020 runoff election began on Monday, June 29. Polls were closed on Friday, July 3 and Saturday, July 4, before reopening on Sunday, which may have factored into the overall tally coming in less than in 2018.

Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon attributes the high number of mail-in ballots to legislation from 2016 in which the application process was changed for elderly and disabled voters.

“What that means is that 55 and older, the disabled, if they apply on Jan. 1 for a mail-in ballot, they will automatically get one for every election be it federal, state, county or local,” Ramon said. “So for this runoff, if your application was placed in for the primaries, you automatically get that (ballot) for the runoff, and you’re automatically going to get one for November.”

“You don’t have to apply every single time anymore,” she added.

Ramon also attributed this year’s runoff tally being a bit low after the first week in comparison to 2018 to a somewhat unorthodox time of the year.

Election Day was originally scheduled for May 26; however, the date was pushed back by Gov. Greg Abbott on May 11 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Aside from the pandemic and the situation in which we find ourselves, some of the races also play a big part,” Ramon said. “The fact that the runoffs are usually in May, people are expecting the primary runoffs to be in May, and here now it was postponed until July. We try our best to notify the community. We try our best to make sure that the media is there reminding voters that there’s an election.

“For there to be an election in July, we really have to do our best to notify our voters that there is actually an election, and it is a primary runoff. It’s really unknown in my 12 years here to have had a primary runoff in July.”

Voters cast their ballots Monday for candidates who will appear on the November ballot in several statewide and local elections.

Democratic races on the ballot include state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Mary “M.J.” Hegar vying for a chance to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November; while Roberto R. “Beto” Alonzo and Chrysta Castañeda are in a race for railroad commissioner.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and attorney Sara Stapleton Barrera are also locked in a battle for the District 27 seat.

Also on the Democratic ballot is the race for Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, Place 1, pitting incumbent Charlie Espinoza against challenger Jaime Rene Chavana.

Ryan Krause and Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez are on the Republican ballot vying for congressional District 15, which is currently held by U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen. Monica De La Cruz Hernandez and Ryan Krause are also on the Republican ballot vying for Precinct Chairman 96.

Polls will remain open for early voting through Friday. Election Day is set for Tuesday, July 14.

For polling locations, visit www.hidalgocounty.us/105/Elections-Department and click the tab labeled “COUNTYWIDE POLLING LOCATIONS.”

Elections officials are reminding voters to practice self-screening for symptoms of COVID-19 before traveling to the polls. Voters must wear a mask, which will not be provided, and practice social distancing while at their respective polling locations.