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Government/Politics

Webb County Exceeds 2016 And 2018 Early Voting, But Lags Behind Most Of Texas

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Maria Mendez for Texas Public Radio
People wait in line to vote at the Laredo Fire Department building on Oct. 13th, 2020, the first day of early voting in Texas.

With 39,955 votes since the start of the early voting period through Monday, Webb County has exceeded the early voting turnout of the 2016 and 2018 elections, Elections Administrator Jose Salvador Tellez said Tuesday.

Voters in the 95% Hispanic county have shown greater interest in this general election with roughly 15,000 new registered voters since 2016, Tellez said.

But the people who have voted so far only make up about 26% of the more than 137,800 registered voters, according to Tellez. That’s lower than the turnout the majority of Texas counties have reported so far, ranging from 30% to nearly 60%, according to the Texas Secretary of State.

Tellez said he thinks the focus should be on the gains in the “raw numbers” as opposed to why the majority of registered voters still haven’t shown up to the polls.

“That's the $64,000 question that I don't think anybody can answer,” he said. “I've always explained to everybody that voter turnout depends on the quality of the candidates, the campaigns that the candidates conduct, and what do they have in common with the voter? Right now in Webb County, we have four city council elections that are running. So, I think that's part of the large turnout, even though I think there's a lot of interest in the national election.”

Still, Texas Democrats say they’re counting on South Texas turnout to give Joe Biden a victory in the historically red state.

“Voting in Laredo and Webb County is our top priority,” said Texas Democratic Party Spokesman Abhi Rahman. “If people vote in South Texas, the Rio Grande Valley and especially Webb County, we’re going to win the state.”

They’ve been working with the Webb County Democratic Party to try to reach a 60% turnout. Earlier this month, they announced a “six-figure” print, radio and digital ad campaign for South Texas. This is the most they’ve invested in South Texas, Rahman said.

Laredo activists against President Trump’s border wall have also been pushing out the vote this month. Jessica Cisneros, Laredo Congressman Henry Cuellar’s progressive primary challenger, also announced Tuesday that she would phone bank with Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Texas Organizing Project PAC on Wednesday. Sanders won the majority of votes in Webb County in the March presidential primary.

Meanwhile, Webb County Republicans are also trying to rally support. They’re planning for a third Trump Train this Saturday.

With three more days of early voting ahead of Election Day next week, Tellez thinks Webb County turnout could reach up to 45%.

“The way it's going, I foresee us probably getting 42–44,000, voter turnout for early voting, and then probably another 22,000 on Election Day, which may put us over is the 60,000 benchmark, which would definitely be the highest turnout in Webb County, probably in the last 20 years,” he said. “And percentage-wise, it would get us closer to probably 44%, 45% of the registered voters.”

The county’s total turnout for the 2016 election was 46.1% and 39% for 2018, according to the Secretary of State.

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