Voters stand in line at Lions Field Adult and Senior Center on the first day of early voting for the 2018 midterm elections. Credit: Edward A. Ornelas for the San Antonio Report

On the first day of early voting Monday, more than 34,000 people cast their ballots in Bexar County.

The total fell just short of the 2016 presidential election’s numbers, when the first day of early voting drew more than 35,000 people to the polls.

A steady line of people wrapped around the outside of Lions Field Adult and Senior Center on Broadway Street Monday morning. Fifteen minutes before the polling place was set to open, 20 people were already in line, a local campaign volunteer said.

“More people are probably coming around lunch, and people have already been discouraged because the line was too long,” Monique Diaz campaign volunteer Richard Gonzales said. “They said, ‘We’ll come back later.’ I heard Brook Hollow [Library] is the same way.”

By 10:30, more than 60 people at Lions Field were waiting for their turn to vote.

During early voting, which continues through Nov. 2, voters can cast ballots at any polling location in Bexar County. During the first week of early voting, polling places are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

At the Elections Department downtown, Hans Rojas voted in his first general election since becoming a U.S. citizen in January. When he got in line, it took about 20 minutes for him to get to the ballot, he said. By the time he left, the line had grown to a 40-minute wait.

Rojas wanted to vote early and “wanted to make my voice count,” he said.

On the far North Side, a line of about 50 people snaked around the side of the Encino Library branch at 9:30 a.m. with an estimated wait time of more than one hour. The line at Brook Hollow Library was about half as long, but parking was scarce. At each location, the San Antonio Firefighters Union set up a canopy just outside the sign noting the 100-foot electioneering boundary.

Voters faced a ballot of more than 50 statewide and local races to decide, including the three controversial ballot propositions backed by the firefighters union. At Lions Field, Christina Liserio said she wanted to get to the polls as early as possible because of the important races on the ballot.

“This election is huge not only for the country but also for our city,” she said. “There are a lot of important things on the ballot: the propositions locally, our district attorney race, and tons of judges. And obviously the Senate race.”

The lengthy ballot could affect voter behavior, said St. Mary’s University political science professor Henry Flores. People are likely to vote at the top of the ballot for races such as senator and governor, and they’ll also probably vote on bottom-ballot races such as on Propositions A, B, and C, Flores predicted. But the middle? Maybe not so much.

“It’s going to be an odd election year because you’re going to have a lot of enthusiasm for the three propositions at the bottom of the ballot that are up locally,” Flores said. “There’s a lot of ‘get out the vote’ going on the yes and no sides. So what you may see is an odd election: a lot of turnout at the top, dip in the middle, and a high turnout at the bottom.”

Stephen Amberg, who teaches political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said the heavy media coverage of the three proposed charter amendments would drive people to the polls.

“If they get to the ballot at all, they’re going to vote on these amendments,” Amberg said.

Amberg said one of the biggest factors in turning out voters is how campaigns connect them to real, concrete policies that could affect their lives. For example, he said, the Bexar County district attorney primary race in March connected with voters by focusing on specific issues that resonated with people who don’t often vote, such as bail reform. 

“How do you get people to turn out for the election of our leaders who actually have authority to make significant decisions on our behalf?” Amberg asked. “Helping voters make the connection with something they know in their own lives and the office that has the authority to do something about it can drive voter turnout.”

Amberg said an increase in voter registration numbers will boost turnout, but more intriguing to him is is how the newly registered voters will act.

“It’s interesting,” he said. “Who are the new registrants and the new voters? The Republican and Trump voters are already mobilized from the last time. And I think they’re still primed to go vote. But the new people are people who are critical of Republican rule.”

Amberg said it will “be interesting to see if that makes a difference in our local elections, too.”

Flores said voter excitement drives people to the polls – as does anger.

“In a strange sort of way, in America today, voter anger will get people to the polls,” he said. “But you have to get them excited about something. That’s going to get them to the polls more than anything else.”

Either way, early vote numbers tend to indicate which candidate will ultimately win the election, Flores said.

“Research has shown that something like 60 percent of the voters cast early votes,” Flores said.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.