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6 questions about voting for El Paso County Elections Administrator Lisa Wise

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In addition to having an additional week for early voting, so three weeks instead of two, what else should voters know?

El Paso County Elections Administrator Lisa Wise.

We will have 35 (early voting) locations across the county. We were going to be open, some of them are 8 to 5, some 9 to 6, sometimes to 7. The last week of early voting we actually have what we’re promoting is ten till 10. So 10 locations open till 10 p.m. across the county (Oct. 26-30), so that’s something new we’re doing. We’re really trying to get people who may work at night or on the weekends and really give them no excuse not to come out and cast their ballot.  So we try to put something on every corner of the county that we could get. This is something we have not done before, but we’re hoping it’s used  so that we can justify having late hours in the future. 

We’ve already started ballot by mail. Those went out on Sept. 25th and we’ve received hundreds and hundreds back already. We’re over 30,000 on our requests for ballot by mail. Before this election, our highest number was 12,600, so we’re definitely seeing an uptick in every way. We don’t know yet if that’s all new people who maybe, you know, are wanting to vote by mail or if that’s people who would have normally gone to the polls and now are choosing that option because of the pandemic. 

What about the mail ballot drop box?

Again in that proclamation in July, the governor also issued a drop box option for a ballot by mail. And basically what that does for El Paso County is allows a drop spot here at the courthouse. It usually is only on Election Day, that’s how the code reads, but the proclamation allows us to have it open from basically now until the Election Day. We’re curbside downstairs on the east side of the courthouse on Campbell Street across from the jail. We have a blue canopy. We’ve got all these signs out there and then there’s a whole poll worker team out there ready to take your ballot. So we’ve been gauging about 40 to 60 seconds per voter. They’re just pulling up, they’re showing their ID, they’re signing the log and passing off their ballot and off they go.

The the big message this election season is make a plan. What do you want people to know? 

Make a plan, that’s what we’ve been telling everyone, plan, plan, plan. Decide how you want to vote. Give yourself enough time. Definitely call our office. We have a couple different phone banks we’re setting up every week. We have two going (this) week. we’ll have three the next week, or four.  When we’re finally at the end we’ll have five and it’s just adding people to answer calls as we get closer and closer.  If you want to check and verify (mail in ballot), our numbers 546-2154. We also have another number, 834-8222, which is on our website for about (vote) by mail FAQs. You’re welcome to call in and get that information. But yeah, the planning is what we’re really trying to get people to do and that includes knowing where you’re going to vote, making sure you have your updated registration. You can view sample ballots on our website. You can pre-fill them. You can take them in with you to refer to them when you’re in the ballot booth. 

What’s new on Election Day?

One of the things that we are doing this year a little different on Election Day is we’re using vote centers, which was approved by the Secretary of State. That is a program that’s just basically similar to early voting, where you can go any to any location on Election Day. (Before), you would have to go to the precinct you’re registered at, that would be your last option. But on Election Day now, you can pick between 151 locations. So that’s a big change. you got all these options if your site were to have a long line or something like that, you’re able to get on our website or get on our mobile app and find the closest ones using the geolocator and the wait times. Like I said, with 151, there are so many places that you could pick from on Election Day. 

What about poll watchers? Explain that process. You can’t just walk in off the street and go inside and wander around the polling place. 

The poll watcher issue, that’s kind of come up in the last I would say seven to 10 days because there are ads running. They’re saying, ‘Hey, would you like to be a poll watcher for this campaign?’ The poll watcher is this term that I think is not being used correctly as far as election administration is concerned. The Texas Election Code addresses poll watchers. Basically what you need to do if you’re going to be a poll watcher, you’re appointed by either a party, a candidate or campaign. You have to present a certificate to the election judge on site. You are allowed to sit there and watch as poll workers as voters are being processed. You’re not allowed to talk to voters. You’re not allowed to obstruct anything. You can ask questions of the judge only. You’re not allowed to use recording devices. It’s very different than when people are talking about, oh, there’s going to be all these poll watchers. What if they’re blocking the driveway or what if they’re you know obstructing the election? What if they’re screaming and I feel intimidated? … When these guys are talking about poll watchers and we’re hearing all this, that’s almost more of like electioneers or people who, who stand outside. They still have to be 100 feet from the door. Because of social distancing, they should not be coming within six feet of a voter so that’s still going to be regulated.

How are you combating misinformation and what can someone do if they’ve seen something on social media and they’re just not sure if it’s true or not?

The hard part is you know we see a lot of national coverage and things like that and every state is different and that’s one of the things that I think starts misinformation, right from the beginning. And, you know, we get calls all the time.  Now we’re getting calls about these naked ballots, this naked ballot issue that’s happening in Pennsylvania where they’ve ruled if you don’t use the secrecy envelope, then they’re not going to accept your ballot by mail. Well, our secrecy envelope is for the voters’ secrecy only. If they don’t return it in the little white envelope in the yellow envelope, we still accept it. The only envelope they have to do is the carrier envelope, which they sign. That other envelope is completely for their own benefit. So it starts with this national coverage and 50 different ways to run elections and then we tell people not only is every state different, every county is different. I mean, we follow the same laws but we may have different procedures, so honestly I can’t express enough, visit our website epcountyvotes.com. And I know people are being overwhelmed with how much information is there because there is a lot. But, take some time.

Cover photo: Bassett Center is one of 35 early voting locations in El Paso County. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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Angela Kocherga

Angela Kocherga is multimedia editor for El Paso Matters. She has dedicated her career as a journalist to reporting stories on both sides of the border for readers, viewers and public radio listeners. She previously served as Mexico City and Border Bureau Chief for a group of television stations. She also serves as news director at public radio KTEP. You can listen to stories by her on air at 88.5 FM and online at KTEP.org.

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