EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Interest in the presidential election and the involvement of community groups are driving voter registration to record levels in El Paso County.
With a few hours left in the Oct. 5 state deadline, some 483,032 El Paso residents were registered to vote on Nov. 3, County Elections Administrator Lisa Wise said.
“We’re up over 55,000 voters in four years. That’s pretty good considering El Paso County continues to lose numbers in overall population,” she said.
Who’s on the ballot piques people’s interest in voting or lulls them to sleep. Elections officials tend to see higher numbers in presidential elections, particularly contentious ones such as Trump-Biden.
But in the case of El Paso, grassroots efforts have yielded results over time.
“The more options you offer people to register to vote, the more likely they are to register. We’ve seen a real increase and interest from organizations at least for the past couple of years,” Wise said.
The county also increased early voting and election day sites and tried to communicate to voters what their options are. But registering to vote is as far as some people get in an election year.
“It’s been pretty heavy across the county. We have decent numbers all the way from the Northwest to the Northeast to Far East El Paso,” Wise said. “We tell people registration is just the first step. We could have a million registered voters but if we don’t turn out to vote, that really doesn’t affect policy and day to day decisions” in government.
To make sure you’re eligible to vote and glance candidates’ information, visit epcountyvotes.com
County judge: ‘Nobody is against demonstrations that are peaceful’
Last week, the Texas Tribune reported that several police departments in the state have contingency plans to deal with protests on election night. The concern stems from a summer of protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and alleged police abuses against people of color.
When those protests spilled over to Texas, however, several police departments received criticism for their handling of the demonstrations. Austin, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio confirmed to the Tribune they’re preparing for protests.
On Monday, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told Border Report he’s expecting nothing out of the ordinary.
“We expect an orderly process, people in El Paso out voting,” the mayor said when asked for comment on the Texas Tribune report.
County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, however, said delays in election results could make people restless on election night.
“We are trying to do things in the most equitable way, the most peaceful way. So, we will be looking if there are concerns that the election won’t end until March,” Samaniego said. “If that happens, there could be some unrest. (But) we haven’t experienced that like in other parts of the country.”
However, on May 31 participants and observers of a George Floyd protest at Memorial Park accused El Paso police of escalating tensions, firing rubber bullets and hurling tear gas canisters that night. El Paso Police said demonstrators assaulted their officers.
Samaniego said the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and EPPD have a good working relationship and observe high standards of conduct when dealing with the public.
“We get a tremendous amount of accolades from Texas and around the country as to how law enforcement comes together. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right,” the county judge said.
He added that El Paso police and the sheriff’s office “know our stance” of allowing people to express themselves in a peaceful manner.
“Nobody is against any demonstrations that are peaceful,” Samaniego said. “Our stance is that we allow people to do what they need to do as long as they do it peacefully and there shouldn’t be any intervention to do it in a different way.”
He lamented the possibility of having to deal with such issues while the county remains in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and other adversity, such as the loss of a job.
However, “I think El Paso will handle it probably better than any community that we know of,” he said.