Primary races begin with early voting

Published on Wednesday, 19 February 2014 00:22 - Written by Adam Russell, arussell@tylerpaper.com

Earline Andrews, of Tyler, started voting early in her life because her parents were very active politically. She said it is the single most important action civic-minded citizens can participate in.

That’s why Ms. Andrews, who turned 103 years old in October, walked into the Smith County Election Office, 302 E. Ferguson St. in downtown Tyler, and cast a ballot on statewide and local races Tuesday.

Tuesday was the first day of early voting for the March 4 party primary races.

“You always vote. I was reared that way,” she said. “Voting is our American freedom, and I make myself available every election.”

Voters begin deciding a full slate of statewide and local races from U.S. Senate, governor and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to Texas House of Representative District 6, Smith County Judge and Justice of the Peace today when early voting polls open.

Texans will elect a new governor for the first time since 2000, when George W. Bush vacated the governor’s mansion to run for the White House. Gov. Rick Perry’s departure has a crowded political field jockeying for a step up the political ladder.

Ten elected posts failed to draw challengers and will remain without contest, but there are eight contested races to become the Democratic and Republican nominee for the November election. One position, to replace retiring County Court at Law Judge Thomas Dunn, garnered four Republican candidates. Three Democrats and 26 Republicans are running in respective primaries.

Party primaries will decide all but two races, including the contest between Democratic incumbent Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 Quincy Beavers and Republican Flor de Maria Nichols. Neither drew a primary opponent and will represent their party in November. Libertarian Joel Gardner will face the GOP District 6 winner in November.

Local contested primaries include the race for District 6 pitting incumbent Rep. Matt Schaefer against challenger Skip Ogle. John Furlow faces incumbent Joel Baker for Smith County Judge. Incumbent County Commissioners Cary Nix, a Republican representing Precinct 2, faces James Barry Barnett, and JoAnn Hampton, a Democrat representing Precinct 4, faces Donald Sanders, in their respective party primaries.

Incumbent District Attorney Matt Bingham faces Austin Reeve Jackson.

Four candidates, including Jason Ellis, Jim Huggler, Mike Patterson and Brent Ratekin are vying to replace retiring County Court at Law Judge Thomas Dunn.

John Jarvis faces incumbent 321st District Court Judge Carole Clark. Noah Butler faces incumbent James Meredith for Justice of the Peace Precinct 3.

Smith County Election Administrator Karen Nelson said voting was brisk and that most everything went smoothly on the first day of voting. She said four voters asked if they could leave and return when they realized they were not as knowledgeable about down-ballot races. Mrs. Nelson said voters need to be aware once they check in they are considered “voted” and must complete their ballot.

“They understood and there wasn’t a problem but we want everyone to feel good about their vote,” she said.

Mrs. Nelson said there had not been any problem with the newly administered photo identification law. Most residents have at least one of several identification options acceptable to vote.

If you have an unexpired Texas driver’s license, state identification card, Concealed Handgun License, U.S. passport, a military identification or citizenship certificate with photos - you can access ballots.

State and local election officials recommend residents with valid identification check the name listed on their preferred form against what is printed on their voter registration card to ensure names are the same.

Texas residents who are U.S. citizens and eligible to vote — but who do not have one of those forms of photo identification can apply for Election Identification Card.

Mrs. Nelson also said the Election Office offers curbside voting for disabled residents who are unable to enter the election office. She said when notified clerks would bring voting machines to the individual’s vehicle and allow them to vote in order to ease the process but that residents have been praising the new election facility and the ease of voting there.

Early voting is no longer on the fifth floor of the Courthouse Annex Building but rather a single-story building just to the east. She stressed that all early voting locations will be open Saturday and Sunday and that those days offer the best opportunity to find parking and avoid lines.

“They’ve been saying how nice (the election office) is and how much easier and accessible it is to vote,” she said.