There was something reassuring about seeing Stella Saunders, Elva Berlanga and Rita Russell as I walked into the early voting site at Lion's Field at 2809 Broadway Monday afternoon. It was lunchtime and I was voter #80 at that particular site, one of 14 early voting sites that opened Monday and will be open through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Early voters have five days, Feb. 9-13, to cast their ballots.
Saunders has been the elections judge at Lion's Field since it became an early voting site nearly a decade ago, and Berlanga has worked alongside her as an election clerk for just as long. Russell has been working that poll site for three years. The workers are among the most unappreciated public servants in our community, working election and after election, getting a close-up view of how poor voter turnout can be in off-year elections.
Early voting turnout can be so low in some races that the elections team becomes familiar with individual voters.
"We wondered if we were going to see you," Saunders said as she greeted me Monday.
Berlanga activated my voting booth and then gave me an "I Voted" sticker afterwards. It's a ritual I cherish, having lived and worked in countries where people lined up to vote under the watchful eyes of soldiers carrying automatic weapons and fingers were dipped in indelible ink as proof an individual voted and thus complied with the law. Low voter turnout confounds me, as it does many. I am convinced that the only way to make democracy more participatory, like it or not, is to give people a smart phone app and let them register and then vote at a time and place of their own choosing.
Locally, rules prohibit photography inside the polling site or I would have asked all three women to pose for the Rivard Report.
"Thank you for voting," Berlanga and Russell called out in unison as I departed.
"Thank you for working the election," I always reply.
Tuesday, Feb. 17 is the official Election Runoff Day around the state for open seats in the Texas Legislature, including Senate District 26 that will be vacated by state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, and House District 123, which was vacated by state Rep. Mike Villarreal after his re-election in November.
Two Democrats, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer and state Rep. José Menéndez, face each other in the District 26 Senate runoff. Martinez Fischer won 43% of the vote in first round, while Menéndez won 25%.
Former City Councilmember Diego Bernal, the Democratic candidate, faces Republican Nunzio Previtera in the District 123 House runoff. Bernal won 47% in the first round voting, while Previtera won 21%.
The outcome of the Feb. 17 Senate election will trigger another special election in March when either Martinez Fischer's House District 116 or Menéndez's House District 124 is vacated by the winner.
The runoff winners of this special election will be sworn into office after final voting results are canvassed, and could take their seats in the recently opened session of the Texas Legislature by the end of the month or early march.
For more election information, including voting locations, visit www.bexar.org/elections.