If the election were a race, Hidalgo County voters are the proverbial tortoise opting for a slow and steady pace compared to neighboring counties.

Richard Loza of McAllen wears his face mask as he waits in line to early vote at McAllen Fireman’s Park on Tuesday, Oct.13,2020. Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | dlopez@themonitor.com

Five-percent fewer Hidalgo County voters went to cast their ballot in person this year than in the last presidential election of 2016. The pandemic may be a factor, but both Cameron and Starr counties saw a jump in their in-person totals this year compared to the same period in 2016.

During the first 12 days of early voting this year, 124,342 people voted in-person compared to 132,420 in 2016, a 6% decline between the two presidential elections as 8,079 less voters participated during the same period.

The early voting period is normally 12 days. This year Texans have up to six more days to vote early due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Gauging the progress of voting can be sliced into three categories: in-person, mail-in, and overall total. These are compared with the first 12 days in 2016. Data was only accessible in all three categories for Cameron and Hidalgo counties. Starr County provided information for in-person totals of 2016.

Cameron County voters are hitting the polls more, sending more mail-in ballots and accruing a larger overall total in this election than in 2016. They saw an overall increase of 11%.

The only category where Hidalgo County saw an increase was in the number of mail-in ballots sent in this year. It’s an expected gain in light of the health risks facing voters in delicate health.

In the last presidential election, 7,409 mail-in ballots were sent during early voting. There were 13,615 people who sent in their ballots by mail, marking an 84% increase, over the first 12 days into early voting this year.

That’s where the increase ends for Hidalgo County, where fewer people went to vote in-person this year. This was reflected in the county’s overall totals which were lower than in 2016, despite the pool of registered voters growing by more than 50,500.

There are multiple factors that can affect the election this year. There are fewer polling sites in Hidalgo County now than in 2016. There are also more people who have requested ballots by mail. Then, there’s voting culture.

“Our voters always wait for the last day of (early voting) and (Election Day),” Yvonne Ramon, Hidalgo County Elections administrator, said via text message.

The six extra days will provide counties experiencing low turnout an opportunity to catch up. It’s already proving to be helpful in Hidalgo County. In the first two of the extra six days, Hidalgo County has closed the gap.

The tortoise analogy held true for Hidalgo County this year, having already surpassed the early voting turnout of 2016, thanks to the extra days. On Sunday and Monday, 9,909 ballots were cast raising the overall total to 147,866.