Polls open for the 2020 general election, and turnout is already high

PRESIDIO COUNTY — As early voting for the 2020 election opened on Tuesday, first-day turnout records across Texas were smashed. Locally, a modest line formed outside the USO building in Marfa ahead of the 8 a.m. poll opening, and by the end of the day, 222 Presidio County residents had voted in person, more than deputy clerk and former elections clerk Florcita Zubia had ever seen in a single day.

Of those 222, 79 voted in Marfa and 143 cast their ballot in Presidio at the Annex Building C. Presidio County tax assessor/collector Natalia Williams, the county’s voter registration official, said 4,793 voters are registered for the 2020 election, slightly lower than 2016.

Less than half of the voting age population turned out to cast a ballot in the last presidential election year in Texas and West Texas’ chronically low turnout is no exception. While 6,178 adults lived in the county in 2016, only 4,806 were registered in Presidio County then, and only 2,208 of those residents voted in those November elections, according to the secretary of state.

At the USO building on Tuesday, the line was spaced out as voters tried to social distance that morning. Inside, election officials were spraying down high-contact surfaces with Lysol and reminding voters that if they had ordered mail-in ballots, they would not be able to vote in-person unless they brought in the mail ballot, completed an application to render it and turned the unused mail ballot over to poll workers.

Some voters attempted to turn in filled out mail-in ballots in-person at the polling site rather than through the U.S. Postal Service. One voter stuck their mail-in ballot in the in-person ballot counting machine before they could be stopped, which prompted confusion but was later resolved.

Election officials reminded the public that hand-delivered mail-in ballots should be dropped off at the clerk’s office at the Presidio County Courthouse, not at the USO or the Annex. Even though the courthouse has temporarily closed its offices due to a rise in COVID-19 cases locally, the east entrance facing the county jail will still be open for those needing to drop off mail-in ballots at the county clerk’s office.

While distancing is being observed at the polls with the help of floor markers keeping the line spread out, there are still challenges to protecting against COVID-19 this year. At the USO, there is only one door where voters enter and exit, causing those leaving to briefly come close to those waiting in line. Zubia said the election officials are limited in what they can do; they want to avoid having voters use other side doors, since they don’t have the capacity to monitor any more entrances or exits.

On top of monitoring entries, the USO building side entrance that has been used in the past no longer has a ramp, “just steep steps,” she said. “It’s a little hard at this point. We are hoping everybody can be patient,” she said, and continue to use the main door. The officials are monitoring the polling sites to see if any improvements or changes need to be made.

Speaking of coronavirus, Zubia said those who have tested positive and are quarantining can still vote “in-person” but at a distance by voting curbside.

Election workers will take the ballot out to the car of any person who is COVID-19 positive. To request curbside voting, call 432-729-4812, or have a COVID-19 negative person alert poll workers in the facility that you are waiting outside.

Across the room from the county-run elections at the USO, the Marfa city elections are also taking place on a separate ballot. Usually held in March, the city elections were postponed to November at the permission of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, due to the pandemic conditions. Voters who live in Marfa city limits will elect three council members and vote on a proposition determining whether the city will regain control of negotiating contracts with AEP.

In the city of Presidio, two city council candidates filed to run for two open seats, so a city election will not take place due to the lack of a competitive race.

Early voting runs through October 30 and election day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020, and is held at the USO building in Marfa and the Annex Building C in Presidio. During early voting, registered voters can cast a ballot at either location. On election day, voters in precincts 1 and 7 must vote in Marfa and voters in precincts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 must vote in Presidio.

Early voting takes place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, except on October 21 and October 28 when the polls have extended hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Election day hours on November 3 are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Presidio election officials are accepting calls for any questions, comments or concerns from the public at 432-729-4812. “This election is so sensitive,” said Zubia. “We want everybody to feel comfortable when they’re coming to vote. If they feel like anything isn’t right, they can call our office and verify.”