El Paso is poised to report record turnout in the 2020 election, primed by a massive wave of early voting echoed across the state.
As polls opened at 7 a.m., voters lined up in face coverings at the county courthouse, county coliseum, senior centers, schools and fire stations — 151 locations in all.
El Pasoans are feeling the sting of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout in deeply personal ways. More than 600 people have died in El Paso, and the city is living under a second, contested shutdown of local businesses to halt the contagion.
Those two issues, more than anything, are shaping their choices at the ballot box.
El Paso election 2020:Get live updates from local, Texas races
Henry Monreal, 75, rode his bike to Fire Station No. 7 in the Five Points neighborhood and was first in a line that quickly grew to more than 20 people. As a retired truck driver and copper smelter worker, Monreal said he could depend on his pension but he worries about the pandemic’s effect on the economy and his family.
“People are reflecting on the pandemic,” he said, adding that he planned to vote for Joe Biden. “People are losing their jobs. they need help, unemployment, food stamps.”
George Chavez, 42, was a lifelong Democrat before he voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. He works construction — pumping concrete to build the border wall and commercial buildings — and has seen his work triple even during the pandemic.
“It’s been a good four years with Trump,” he said, waiting in line behind Monreal.
Forty-five percent, or 222,149, of El Paso’s 488,890 registered voters had already cast their ballots through Friday, the end of early voting.
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That means, this year, more El Pasoans turned out to vote in the three weeks before Election Day than did in total during the 2016 presidential election, when 218,890 people cast ballots.
Besides the presidential contest, El Pasoans are facing a long ballot to include a six-way race for mayor, four city representatives, a U.S. representative, a U.S. senator, a state senator, a county commissioner, three county constables, a dozen judgeships, three area school boards, state board of education and state railroad commissioner.
In the heated race for one of Texas’ two U.S. Senate seats, Republican Sen. John Cornyn is facing a challenge by Democrat Mary J. Hegar. Meanwhile, voters in the Texas Borderland from El Paso to Eagle Pass will also decide who controls the U.S. House of Representatives’ 23rd District, Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones or Republican Tony Gonzales.
The El Paso Times will publish real-time election updates as results roll in Tuesday and Wednesday. Final tallies of the city, state and national races — as well as final voter turnout — will publish in print on Thursday.
A more ‘competitive’ Texas
Voter turnout surged across the state, potentially rendering traditionally Republican Texas more competitive than it has been in decades.
Urban centers including Houston and Dallas have begun to lean Democratic as new voters join the rolls, buttressing traditional Democratic strongholds in Austin and the Borderland, particularly El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.
“The change isn’t going to be to make Texas Democratic; the change is going to be to make Texas competitive,” said Joe Heyman, director of the Center for Inter-American Border Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso.
“It makes Texas a lot more valuable,” he said. “It makes every voter more valuable. It makes El Paso more valuable.”
El Paso’s registered voters climbed 14% over the past four years to 488,980 registered voters, up from 427,850 in 2016, according to county election data.
Lauren Villagran can be reached at email@example.com.
Daniel Borunda contributed to this report and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.