Already certain of processing a record raw number of votes, election officials in Hays County are bracing for the possibility of a record percentage turnout by the time polls close at 7 p.m. today.
The early voting total of 40,159 ballots when the polls closed on Oct. 31 already approached the county record for total votes set in 2004, when 48,000 people voted in the presidential election that returned George W. Bush to the White House for his second term.
The county was much smaller in 2004, with about 78,000 registered voters. Today, the rolls are up to 97,603.
Anticipating the huge early turnout, Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce Cowan added 134 hours of polling places for that period and, in locations outside San Marcos, extended closing hours from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“If we hadn’t done that, they we would have had some really long lines,” Cowan said.
As it was, the lines already stretched for very long periods, reaching two hours at the San Marcos Public Library on Oct. 31 as city voters rushed to avoid certain long lines today. Locations in Dripping Springs produced the largest early turnouts – 1,545 on Oct. 30 and 1,542 on Oct. 28.
Cowan said as the early polls closed that she expected around 65,000 total votes when 36 polling places close today. However, she wasn’t firm with that prediction, especially considering 50 percent of the vote in 2004 went out early.
Indications have it that the vote could exceed Cowan’s lofty prediction of 70-percent turnout when the early voting process began on Oct. 20. At that point, Cowan expected that half of the vote would come out early.
If that holds up, it means 50 percent of the vote would turn out today, pointing to a total turnout of about 80,000, an 82-percent vote that would smash the old record of 75 percent set in the 1992 presidential election, when Bill Clinton won his first term against George H.W. Bush. Hays County, which numbers more than 141,480 according to the Texas Association of Counties, was only about half as big in 1992.
In addition to the presidential election between Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), today’s ballot includes numerous local votes.
Throughout Hays County, the ballot includes a state representative election between incumbent Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) and challenger Matt Young (R-Wimberley), as well as a county road bond referendum for $207 million to fund 16 projects with an agreement for the state to reimburse $133.2 million.
Within San Marcos, incumbent Mayor Susan Narvaiz is up for re-election against challenges from David Newman and Daniel McCarthy. In addition, Councilmember Chris Jones is running for his return against Lisa Marie Copoletta.
Two Hays County Commissioners seats in San Marcos also are up for grabs. In Precinct 1, which covers the eastern portions of San Marcos and reaches north into Kyle, incumbent Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) is up against Nick Ramus (R-San Marcos) and Bill Wyatt (I-San Marcos). In Precinct 3, which covers western San Marcos and reaches north to Wimberley, incumbent Will Conley (R-San Marcos) is running against Steve Klepfer (D-Wimberley).
San Marcos voters also will weigh in on a non-binding resolution that would extent bar hours to 2 a.m. every day. The San Marcos City Council is expected to approve the extension if voters say they want it. All three mayoral candidates have spoken in its favor.