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November 9th, 2008
Hays County Elections Office to consider past when looking to the future

Voter turnout in Texas was lower than some expected, despite record numbers of citizens registering and casting votes in the primaries.”In 2006 we voted 2,000 Democrats, and in 2008 we voted 20,000 — that’s a big difference,” said Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce A. Cowan.

Cowan said two-thirds of residents registered to vote in Hays County cast ballots early, a higher ratio compared to last year.

“In 2004, the last presidential, we had a little over 50 percent turnout,” said Cowan. “We voted over 40,000 early, and we voted 20,000 (on) Election Day.”

Days after Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade predicted 68 percent of registered voters would cast ballots, preliminary figures — election results will be finalized November 14 — indicated a voter turnout of 59 percent, almost three percentage points higher than the 2004 general election. According the Texas Secretary of State website, fifty-six percent of registered Texans turned out to vote in the 2004 election, 51 percent in 2000 and 53 percent in 1996. Higher numbers of Texas turned out to vote in 1992 when 72 percent of citizens participated in the race between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Sixty-eight percent of registered Texans voted in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected, and in 1984, when he was re-elected.

Cowan said more Hays County residents may have cast ballots in advance of Election Day this year because early voting was being promoted by “lots of candidates.” Cowan said the County will take into account the record numbers of early voters this year when it looks for ways to reduce the wait time at polling stations in the future. She said Hays County is required by law to provide at least one site for the full two-week early voting period.

Cowan said since at least 1985, her office has been going to other areas of Hays County to register citizens early. She said early voting was available in Wimberley and Dripping Springs for five days. According to the Hays County Elections website, Kyle had early voting for six days, Woodcreek for two days and Buda for four days. San Marcos had at least two locations open every day during the two weeks of early voting, with three locations open for at least nine hours for four of those days. Cowan said San Marcos City elections resulted in early voting being available at the San Marcos Public Library for the full two weeks.

Cowan said the biggest difference between the latest general election and previous ones was the large early voting turnout. Hays County Assistant Elections Administrator Laura Hernandez said it was unusual for there to be longer lines during early voting than on Election Day.

“People will come out towards the end of early voting and the lines get a little bit longer, but this time around it was just steady, it was busy the whole time,” said Hernandez. “There were people waiting an hour, an hour and a half. And then on Election Day I don’t think that there was a couple places that had longer lines. The majority of our precincts ran smoothly.”

Hernandez said the county will have to make some changes in the event redistricting occurs, but otherwise they have all the infrastructure and equipment needed to accommodate future elections. Hernandez said there were no difficulties with voting equipment. Cowan said finding election workers is “not as easy as a lot of people might think,” and added the County may look into ways to reduce the wait times at polling places.

“(We could) possibly change the sites, possibly try to find in each commissioner precinct facilities that we can open the full early voting period, especially in our rural areas over there,” said Cowan. “We’ll take a look and see how we can enhance and improve on what we’re doing.”

Cowan said she has not encountered voter fraud this year. She said Hays has “never had any major problems with voter fraud.”

“We’re checking everything now,” said Cowan. “If we find (anything), it will be turned over to the DA…I’m one of these that think our county is pretty honest.”

by Sean Batura

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