About 6% of El Paso County’s registered voters cast their ballot ahead of Tuesday’s primary election — an underwhelming turnout compared to previous midterm election years.

Just 31,762 of the county’s 494,152 registered voters participated in the early voting period, which ran from Feb. 14-25, according to El Paso County Elections Department data.

The number of ballots cast at the end of early voting is down 9.7% compared to the same time in 2018, the last midterm election.

The March 1 primary will determine which Democratic and Republican candidates will compete in the November general election. At the top of the ballot is the race for governor, in which former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke is vying for the Democratic nomination and a chance to unseat Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. Further down are races for El Paso’s congressional and state legislative seats, followed by local races for county commissioner and justice of the peace.

Voter turnout in El Paso this election likely won’t come close to the 15.4% turnout seen in 2018, and older El Pasoans will overwhelmingly determine the outcome of the local primary races.

Just 4.5% of those who voted early were under 30 years old; 43% were over age 65, according to an El Paso Matters analysis of county election data.

Almost 30% of the county’s votes cast thus far were in the Republican primary — something not seen since 2010, the last time a Democratic president faced his first midterm election. Republican turnout is up 60% compared to the same time period during the 2018 primary, while Democratic turnout is down 23.5%.

Because only four of El Paso’s contested district-based races have a Republican primary candidate, most of these voters are likely drawn by the high-profile statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — where the Republican incumbents face multiple primary opponents.

A third of El Paso’s Republican primary voters — 3,168 — did not vote in either the 2020 Republican or Democratic primary (at least in El Paso), while 19% of Democratic voters did not vote in either 2020 primary.

Another 636 Republican voters this year voted in the 2020 Democratic primary, while 208 Democratic voters cast a ballot in 2020’s Republican primary.

Voters line up to cast their ballots at an early voting site at Bassett Center on Friday. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

New restrictions on mail-ballot applications and mail-in ballots themselves have impacted Democratic turnout, as 96% of the mail-in ballots the elections department has received thus far were for the Democratic primary.

As of Friday, 1,038 ballots remain flagged for rejection because they failed to meet new identification requirements. Voters must now put either their Texas driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number — whichever they used to initially register to vote — under the carrier envelope flag. If the ID number is missing or doesn’t match the ID number on file, then the ballot will be rejected unless the voter “cures” or fixes it.

Elections Administrator Lisa Wise said that 558 previously rejected ballots have been “cured,” and she encourages voters still needing to cure their ballot to come to the county elections department by Tuesday to fix it.

Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by March 1 and received by the elections department by the next day in order to be counted. Voters can alternatively return their mail-in ballot by hand to the department, 500 E. San Antonio Ave., by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

For those wanting to vote in person on Election Day, polling places will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters can cast their ballot at any of the county’s more than 100 polling sites.

Cover photo: Signage marks an early voting location at the El Paso Community College Administrative Services Center on Viscount Blvd. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014.