Oct 12, 2016

Late-Night Rush Shatters Travis County Voter Registration Record

Reporting Texas

Siblings Jorge Luis Castillo, Juanita Castillo and Rafaela Severino complete voter registration cards at the Travis County Tax Office before the midnight deadline. Juan Figueroa/Reporting Texas

Siblings Jorge Luis Castillo, Juanita Castillo and Rafaela Severino complete voter registration cards Tuesday night at Travis County offices, which stayed open so voters could sign up by the midnight deadline. Juan Figueroa/Reporting Texas

Brian Jackson has never voted in a presidential election, but he was determined to have his say this year — even if it meant a late-night drive to Travis County offices to register.

Jackson, 23, was among scores of voters who went to county offices on Airport Boulevard Tuesday night to register by the midnight deadline.

He works two jobs and is taking online business management courses, so finding the time to register wasn’t easy. But, he said, “I feel like I needed to this time..It’s important for my generation to pick the right person.”

The 11th-hour crush will pad the county’s already-record registration total ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. As of late Wednesday afternoon, 717,696 people had registered to vote, according to the Tax Office website. That did not count 10,000 to 15,000 paper applications that had not yet been entered into the database.

In 2012, 635,00 people — 82 percent of eligible voters — registered.

Registrar clerk Thyra Davis checks voter registarion cards collected from voter registration tables throughout the county. Juan Figueroa/Reporting Texas

Clerk Thyra Davis checks registration cards collected from voter registration stations around Travis County Tuesday. Juan Figueroa/Reporting Texas

“It’s going to be a record year,” said Bruce Elfant, the county’s tax assessor, who also is in charge of voter registration. He was on hand Tuesday night to oversee the last-minute registrations.

The final voter signed up at 11:59 p.m., according to a Facebook post.

In January, the county had set a goal of registering 90 percent of eligible voters and had exceeded that goal by Monday. To give people extra options on deadline day, the county also accepted registrations at Alamo Drafthouse locations and Thundercloud Subs shops until 10 p.m.

Maria Nuñez takes a photo of daughter Leslie Lopez,18, after registering to vote. Nuñez and Lopez heard about the last minute voter registarion on the radio. Juan Figueroa/Reporting Texas

Maria Nuñez takes a photo of daughter Leslie Lopez, 18, who registyered to vote for the first time. They had heard about the last-minute registration opportunities on the radio. Juan Figueroa/Reporting Texas

The bitter and controversy-loaded contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton has stirred up high public interest and heated debate over their very different visions for the country.

“Both candidates are very controversial. It’s hard to choose,” Jackson said, declining to say whom he would vote for.

Leslie Lopez, 18, had come to the county office with her mother, Maria Nunez, to register for the first time. “I just don’t want Trump to win,” Lopez said.

Phillip Breedlove stopped in around 11 p.m. to make sure his registration information was updated. “I’m going to vote much earlier than I registered,” Breedlove vowed as he  left the office on Airport south of Koenig Lane.

Early voting starts Oct. 24 and ends Nov. 4.

On Tuesday, registrars at Elfant’s office were trying out a pilot program that allowed them to record voter information by computer, an alternative to paper forms that can be incomplete or have errors. The county has hired contractors to correct wrong or incomplete forms by Oct. 20, when updated data must be submitted to the Texas secretary of state.

Elfant is a proponent of online registration, which he says would save taxpayers money and leave less room for error.

Texas historically is near the bottom of the states in terms of voter turnout, which has been around 45 percent in recent presidential elections. Travis County’s record was 66 percent in the 2008 election.

Now, Elfant says, the county’s goal is to get at least 70 percent of registered voters to turn out on Election Day.

“Special interests love low-turnout elections. The great equalizer is that we all get one vote,” he said.

Voter registrants apply using the new digital registration system at the Travis County Tax Office before the midnight deadline on Tuesday night. Juan Figueroa/Reporting Texas

The county tested a computer-based registration system Tuesday night. County officials said the system would be less expensive than paper forms and reduce the chance for error. Juan Figueroa/Reporting Texas