AUSTIN – Much like the marathon runners, voters at Shady Hollow Village Mall in South Austin on Tuesday morning were congratulated with cries of “You did it!” or “It was totally worth it!” when they left the polling station.
The first day of early voting in the 2020 general election was marked by long waits, queues that meandered in parking lots and around polling places and, for the first time, security measures to prevent the transmission of a deadly virus.
Some voters lined up at the polling places overnight. Just 15 minutes into the polls, at 7 a.m., at least 11 of the county’s 37 polling stations had wait times of 20 minutes or more.
In the first three hours of voting, 6,000 people voted. As of noon, the total was 14,000, said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.
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DeBeauvoir said the first day of early voting tends to be the busiest, but she expected lines and wait times to thin over the next few days. Voters reported hours of wait.
“It’s pretty normal behavior, and I think on the second or third day you’ll find the lines are less intimidating,” DeBeauvoir said. “There is such enthusiasm there. Voters are in a good mood and take care of each other by wearing masks and social distancing. Everyone is having a good time. So go out and vote.
At Shady Hollow Village Mall, some waited at least three and a half hours. When a pregnant woman walked out of this polling station after a three-hour wait, a passer-by told her that she would one day have a good story to tell her baby.
Eric Forthun, who voted at the Ben Hur Shrine in North Austin, said he waited about three hours to vote on Tuesday morning. Another voter said he waited over 2 hours to vote at a Randalls in Round Rock and said the wait “was worth it”.
Day one turnout was also significant in other Texas counties. As of noon, Bexar County reported 10,509 people had voted and Dallas County 25,000.
At approximately 1:40 p.m., Harris County reported that more than 68,000 votes had been cast, breaking the 2016 record. More than 16,000 people voted in Williamson County on Tuesday.
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Reporters from Houston, Galveston, Dallas, San Antonio and San Marcos shared photos on social media from lines outside polling stations.
As the lines on Tuesday morning circled around polling locations in Travis County, Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant reported that nearly all eligible voters in Travis County were registered to vote this year.
Of the county’s more than 850,000 eligible voters, a record 97 percent are registered to vote in the Nov. 3 general election, Elfant said.
“That number even exceeds my expectations,” Elfant said. “To everyone who registered to vote, thank you. To our civic army of volunteers who registered voters, thank you. To my voter registration staff, thank you.
He attributed the turnout to the county’s contactless voter registration program, Text2Register, which has been used by more than 4,700 county residents.
He also credited the University of Texas athletics department for public service announcements.
Bastrop County also reported record numbers on voter registration. Registered voters reached 52,113 on Sunday, breaking the 2018 midterm electoral record of 47,462. The county had 45,013 registered voters for the 2016 presidential election.
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Complications and dysfunctions
Voters at Dittmar Recreation Center in South Austin reported malfunctions with the voting machine on Tuesday morning, resulting in longer than usual wait times.
DeBeauvoir said several technicians are deployed around the county to help resolve these issues and to make sure the machines are up and running. The dysfunction of the Dittmar Leisure Center has been resolved, she said.
“When that happens, people: don’t stop voting,” she said. “Voters can cast their ballot in the emergency ballot box, and it will always be counted. … Technical problems can arise at any time, and when they do, it’s a question of when and how quickly can we solve them.
The night before the early polls began, a federal appeals court upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting counties to one place for depositing mail-in ballots. In Travis County, ballots can be cast at 5501 Airport Blvd.
DeBeauvoir said the county received 78,000 requests for mail-in ballots. Of those, 75,000 were sent to voters’ mailboxes and 14,400 were returned, she said.
Ballots in the mail will not be counted until 7 a.m. on election day, she said.
In July, Governor Greg Abbott extended the early voting period by a week due to the coronavirus pandemic. Normally, early voting would have started on October 19.
“By extending the early voting period and increasing the period during which mail-in ballots can be hand-delivered, Texans will have greater flexibility in voting, while protecting themselves and others from COVID. -19, ”Abbott said in a statement at the time.
Most voters practiced social distancing by queuing on Tuesday, and most wore masks.
Roberto Villalpando contributed to this report.