“If we want to see this world become a better place, we should do the bare minimum, which is voting.”
Voting in this year’s election was crucial for Elisa García. The 25-year-old Harlingen, Texas resident and magazine editor recalls feeling devastated after the 2016 presidential election. After learning of voter suppression happening in her state, she made it a point to vote on the first day of early voting to ensure her voice was heard.
“A lot of policies moving forward, whether or not who wins, are at stake,” García said, adding climate change and healthcare are her biggest concerns. “I wanted to make sure my vote was counted.”
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García is one of millions of Texans who have cast their ballots early in this year’s presidential election. Early voting in Texas ends on Oct. 30 and so far the state is leading the nation in early votes. As of Friday, over 6.38 million Texans had voted early, either in person or by absentee ballot, according to the US Elections project. Early votes across the country total 51.52 million.
A total of 56,375 residents in Cameron County, where García is registered, have already cast their ballots. Unqualified to vote by absentee ballot, García voted in person at the Harlingen Convention Center. At the location, voters were given the option of voting inside the building or curbside from their vehicle. García opted for the latter and waited 35-40 minutes.
This is García’s second time voting early in a presidential election, which she said has made the voting process easier.
“I’ve done it both times and I’ll continue to do that because so far I’ve had a good track record of not waiting too long,” she said.
Since voting, García has been encouraging others to do the same and continues to share resources on social media, like lists of polling locations in her county, to help prevent voter suppression and misinformation.
“I think the fact that a lot of voter suppression is going on has encouraged a lot of people to wake up and do something about it,” she said. “I’m lucky to be in a position that it didn’t affect me but I know from social media that some people are driving three hours away to go vote and back and that’s not ok.”
For Milli Henríquez, a 56-year-old educational consultant, voting early was a matter of safety. The long-time Houston resident said just weeks after President Donald Trump won the 2016 election, while she walked through her neighborhood, a driver shouted from his car at her to go back to her country. She feared a similar attack could happen to her or her children this year.
“That image of verbal abuse and disregard for the equity that we all deserve in this country startled me,” Henríquez said. “It’s the reason we went before Election Day and why we told our brown boys that they need to vote before Election Day. We don’t want them out on the streets that day for safety purposes.”
Henríquez voted on the second day of early voting and says her county’s website helped her determine the closest polling location to her home, as well as expected wait times.
“I appreciated that the website was precise,” Henríquez said, adding there were only 10-15 people waiting before her. “We got there and it didn’t even take us ten minutes to vote.”
Outside of her polling location were signs prohibiting protests within 100 feet of the building, which Henríquez said made her feel reassured. While voting machines were spaced out, she said the process still felt intimate and private.
As of Thursday Oct. 23, 951,066 Harris County residents have voted early, in person or by mail, which Henríquez says she is proud of. “I think this city has a responsibility to keep this going, moving forward because it’s one of the biggest cities in the country and it should be leading in many things,” she said.
In Central Texas, Travis County has also broken early voting records, eclipsing the 2016 total early voter turnout of 372,188 votes as of Friday with a total of 370,970 early votes, according to Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.
Among those early voters was 24-year-old Austin resident Belicia Luevano, who cast her vote on the second day of early voting to ensure she didn’t forget. Luevano, a self-employed crafter, said it makes her happy to know that others are voting early too, adding so many eager voters could be a sign that many are fed up with the current administration.
She called the last four years “terrible” and said she fears future policies under Trump could harm LGBTQ individuals, like herself, and also cause further damage to the environment.
“I think everyone is just fed up with just feeling so helpless and the one thing we can do is cast a vote,” Luevano said. “It feels good to physically do something when you feel like there’s not much you can do.”
Luevano planned to vote at her local library but said the line of voters there wrapped around the building. She instead voted at the Austin Recreation Center at House Park, where she waited only 30 minutes to vote. Most voters in line came prepared to wait with books while she listened to a podcast.
After voting, Luevano has invited her friends to vote early and stay informed about local races. She said she hopes to see more people who look like her heading to the polls.
“People are learning that they really have to be more active in this country if they want to see things change,” she said. “If we want to see this world become a better place, we should do the bare minimum, which is voting.”