The El Paso County elections office is preparing for a possible record number of voters in the March 3 primary elections.

“Turnout is always a tough one for me to predict.  We’re operating as if it will be about 25 to 27 percent, but again that is a rough guess,” County Elections Administrator Lisa Wise said.

El Paso has about 470,000 registered voters who are eligible to cast a ballot in the March 3 Democratic or Republican primary.

Wise’s turnout estimate would result in somewhere between 117,000 and 127,000 voters in the primary. The most voters ever in an El Paso primary election came in 2008, when more than 123,000 voters went to the polls, drawn primarily by a heated contest for the Democratic presidential nomination between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The 2008 primary election drew more than a third of registered voters. If that percentage of voters turned out this year, that would result in more than 150,000 voters. Aside from 2008, primary turnout in presidential election years has ranged from 13 to 21 percent in El Paso.

This year’s Democratic presidential nominating contest will be hotly contested when Texas primary rolls around March 3, part of “Super Tuesday” that will see 14 states voting.

Wise said her office already has received more than 13,600 applications for mail ballots, up from 2,700 in the 2016 presidential primary and 7,500 in the 2018 midterm primary. The deadline to request a mail ballot is Feb. 21.

Political parties have become more aggressive in getting their eligible supporters to request a mail ballot because of the convenience it offers. Although other states have widely expanded the use of mail ballots, Texas still tightly restricts eligibility. The only Texans who can cast a mail ballot are those over 65, those with a disability, those who will be out of the county on election day and during the early-voting period, and those who are incarcerated but otherwise eligible to vote.

Early voting for the primary is Feb. 18-28.

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.