By STEFAN MODRICH
Missouri City resident Brie Terry was among the first to arrive Monday morning at the Smart Financial Centre, Fort Bend County’s mega-polling site, after county voters turned out in record-setting numbers to begin early voting last week.
Through the first five days of early voting for the 2020 election, a record 117,000 votes have been cast. In the 2016 general election, 262,000 total voters cast their ballots in Fort Bend County.
“I try to vote early every election,” Terry said. “But this year it was probably more important because of (COVID-19). I thought that maybe because in years past, early voting is not as busy or traditionally busy like it is on (Election Day) that it would be the same. And there’s been record turnout. Having the Smart Financial Centre has been helpful because (voters) can just walk right in and they have so many machines and you can get right back out.”
Terry said she normally doesn’t vote on the first day of early voting, and decided to wait until the following week after the check-in issue with the electronic poll books across the county Oct. 13 resulted in delays for many voters.
On Saturday, the county saw a record 22,772 voters, exceeding the early voting totals through the fifth day of early voting from the 2016 and 2018 elections. This followed the single-day high thus far of 25,776 votes on Friday. There also were 22,772 votes cast last Thursday, 20,384 last Wednesday, Oct. 14 and more than 20,000 on Oct. 13, the first day of early voting.
Despite rain that blanketed the area Monday morning, voters were undeterred and lined up in polling places across the county from Richmond’s George Memorial Library to Meadows Place City Hall. Several voters said upon exiting their polling site that the lines were minimal and moved quickly and efficiently.
One of them was Gloria Jorque, who has lived in Meadows Place since 2000 and has been a Fort Bend County resident for more than 30 years. She said she’s voted in every election since then, and she too is an early bird. “I always vote early, and I like it,” Jorque said. “There’s a lot of places to park. It’s easy. It was easy last year, and it’s even easier now.”
The elimination of straight-ticket voting has been one downside of the process this year for those who share Jorque’s desire to vote for every candidate of the same political party with a single punch.
Jan Doniero and her husband, Joey Doniero, of Barrington Place also said they liked the ease of straight-ticket voting, and have always preferred to vote early.
Joey, a Navy veteran who said he served in Vietnam, noted he was mostly in favor of straight-ticket voting, but also likes having the freedom to break from party lines.
“Sometimes you can go ahead and pick out a bad guy and not vote for him,” Joey said. “But if you did straight ticket, you’d have to go down the list, and especially in this kind of an election, a presidential election (it’s important) that they figure out who they want to vote for in each race.”
Jan said she’s a fan of the new voting machines, which notably lack the old arcade-game style wheel mouse that is spun by hand to make ballot selections. “It’s a big difference,” Jan said. “There’s a stylus, and you just tap (the touch screen). I liked it better.”
Per the Texas Secretary of State, early voting has accounted for more than 50 percent of Fort Bend County’s total general election turnout just three times, the first of which was 2004 (84,273 of 163,169 voters), followed by 2008 (154,178 of 202,822 voters) and 2016 (210,287 of 404,035), all of which were presidential election years.
The county has seen a turnout of at least 60 percent of registered voters in three of the last four completed election cycles going back to 2012.
Approximately 1.9 million Texans registered to vote since the 2016 general election, bringing the statewide totals to just shy of 17 million.
Neighboring Harris County and Galveston County have also seen record-breaking early voting numbers, as have the Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin areas.
Terry added that she’s been paying close attention to the Missouri City mayoral race between incumbent Yolanda Ford and challengers Robin Elackatt and Fred G. Taylor. She also said she’s been impressed by the high turnout not only in Fort Bend but across the Greater Houston area.
“Whether you’re Republican, Democrat, or Independent, or what have you, definitely, early voting is the way to go,” Terry said. “And good job to all the surrounding counties for getting out and voting early, because I think it’s important for people to exercise their right to vote.”