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These new voters are driving El Paso’s record election turnout

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El Paso likely will shatter election turnout records this year, due in large part to an influx of early voters who didn’t cast ballots in the 2016 presidential race.

Isabelle Chavira of Central El Paso didn’t turn 18 until two months after the November 2016 election. She voted in the 2018 general election and says she’s highly motivated to vote again this year.

“I voted in 2018 because it was the first year I was eligible to vote, and I was really frustrated at not being able to vote in the 2016 election,” she said. “I’ll be voting this year because I hate our president and voting is one of the only things I can do about it.”

The presence of Donald Trump on the ballot helped drive El Paso County to a record turnout of 218,000 voters in 2016. He received 25.7 percent of the vote in El Paso, the worst performance ever by a major party presidential nominee in the county. His presence on the 2020 ballot as an incumbent also seems to be inspiring a turnout that will shatter the record set four years ago.

Through Monday, 28% of early voters in El Paso County did not cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. That percentage has been increasing each day and is likely to continue to grow as motivated voters like Chavira, who has not yet cast her vote according to county records, make their way to the polls.

I asked students in a UTEP investigative reporting class to identify people who were too young to vote in 2016 but cast a ballot in 2018 and planned to do so again this year. (Disclosure: The class is taught by my wife, Associate Professor of Practice Kate Gannon.) They used a database I provided, then used skills they had been taught to track down and interview these voters. 

Dissatisfaction with Trump was a frequent theme. Here are some of the responses from those who have cast their ballots so far.

“Yes, for sure voting in 2020!! We need a much better president for these next few years lol,” said Ellyse Provencio, who turned 18 two weeks after the 2016 election. 

“I’ve been into government and politics forever so I was really just waiting until I was 18 so that I finally could go vote,” said Katrina Crouch, who turned 18 three months before the 2018 election. She voted early this year “predominantly because I hate our leadership currently.”

“I will be voting in 2020 because if Trump gets another term he’ll drive this further into the ground, to a place I don’t think we can come back from,” said Janine Montenegro, 21.

“I’m voting in 2020 because now I am able to cast my vote against Trump because he’s done nothing but terrible things to this country; it’s time for him to leave office. Yes, Biden isn’t a strong suit but I’ll take anything other than Trump,” said Joel Torres Jr., who turned 18 five months after the 2016 election.

Of course, some new El Paso voters are motivated to vote for President Trump. But county voting data suggests that the early voters who didn’t cast ballots in 2016 lean heavily Democratic. More than 4,800 of those voters cast ballots in the March primaries this year, and they voted heavily Democratic.

Here’s some additional information about non-2016 voters who have cast ballots so far in early voting.

About 52% of these voters are women, which is in line with the voter registration breakdown of El Paso.

Although people under 30 make up the largest age group of these voters, most of them are over age 30. That means the turnout of non-2016 voters is much more than people becoming eligible to vote for the first time.

More than half of these voters registered after the last presidential election and more than two in five have never voted in any election in El Paso.

These voters live throughout the county. Not surprisingly, the bulk of these voters are concentrated in large ZIP codes in West and East El Paso.

UTEP multimedia journalism students Jessica Ceniceros, Ariona Gill and Jaqueline Vallejo contributed to this story.

Cover photo: El Pasoans went to Sunland Park Mall on Tuesday to cast early votes during the lunch hour. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)

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Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on border issues by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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