All eyes are on the Texas governor’s race at the top of the Nov. 8 ballot, as El Paso’s Beto O’Rourke seeks to unseat two-term Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. But closer to home, there are a number of down-ballot contests that will have a major impact on El Paso County. Here’s which local races El Paso Matters is watching:

El Paso City Council Districts 5 and 6

Only two incumbent City Council members are on the ballot after District 8 city Rep. Cissy Lizarraga declined to seek a second term and District 1 Rep. Peter Svarzbein termed out. District 5 Rep. Isabel Salcido and District 6 Rep. Claudia Rodriguez have both drawn challengers, who have taken aim at the Eastside representatives’ voting records in support of property tax increases and the issuance of millions of dollars in certificates of obligation (non-voter approved debt). In a rare move, the El Paso County Democratic Party urged its members not to support Rodriguez for the nonpartisan council seat, accusing her of working “against our community values.” Still, both incumbents have outraised their challengers, including state Rep. Art Fierro, who is seeking Rodriguez’s seat.

Of note Tuesday will be whether Salcido and Rodriguez are able to win a second four-year term outright, or whether their challengers will force them into a Dec. 17 runoff election. It takes 50% plus one vote to win.

County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

The race for the Precinct 4 seat on El Paso County Commissioners Court could be Republicans’ best chance at victory Tuesday. Democrat Sergio Coronado ousted incumbent Carl Robinson in the May primary runoff, and now faces Republican Blanca Trout, his colleague on the Canutillo school board. Precinct 4 — which covers parts of West and Northeast El Paso, Canutillo, Vinton and Anthony — has long been the sole Republican-held seat on the five-member court. Republican Dan Haggerty held the seat from 1995 until his death in 2013, and was succeeded by his nephew Andrew Haggerty, also a Republican, who was in office from 2014-2018 until Robinson thwarted his bid for a second term.

Canutillo ISD bond

This is the Canutillo Independent School District’s second attempt at passing a bond in two years, after voters rejected the district’s two bond propositions last fall. This year’s bond is again divided into two parts: Proposition A includes $255.7 million for school renovations and security upgrades; Proposition B includes $8.4 million to refinance maintenance tax notes used to install district-wide WiFi and LED lighting, and to purchase student laptops. The district estimates the bond could raise its tax rate by 3 cents at the height of the 40-year repayment schedule.

This time around, the district has upped its outreach efforts. The school board even made Election Day a school holiday for students and employees to encourage voting. Like last fall, anti-bond sentiment has been high, with signs urging the community to “Vote No” popping up in yards, businesses and along main roadways. The signs lack the required political advertising disclosure indicating who financed them, prompting Superintendent Pedro Galaviz to file state ethics complaints against five people he believes are behind them. Three of those are candidates for Canutillo ISD’s Board of Trustees, who are campaigning on anti-bond and parental rights platforms.

U.S. House District 23

The longtime swing district is redder than ever, after the Texas Legislature redrew its boundaries in 2021 to favor Republicans. That hasn’t discouraged Democrat John Lira, who is counting on far east El Paso County voters to help him unseat freshman U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales. El Paso County residents comprise about 13% of the district’s population, which stretches to San Antonio and includes hundreds of miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. The national Democratic Party has ignored this race in favor of investing in South Texas’ congressional races, leaving Lira at a major fundraising disadvantage. Lira, however, has managed to make eight trips to El Paso since announcing his candidacy.

The Democrat is hoping to see a down-ballot boost from Beto O’Rourke’s candidacy. He also believes independent candidate Frank Lopez Jr., who’s positioned himself as a far-right alternative to Gonzales, will help his campaign by taking votes from the incumbent.

Voter turnout

Though not a contested race, Texas voter turnout will be a major story of this election. Many analysts predicted the O’Rourke-Abbott matchup would draw more than 10 million voters, or about 57% turnout, up from 2018’s record 53% turnout of any midterm election. Early voting numbers though have dragged behind 2018, with about 5.5 million Texans casting a ballot during the 12-day early voting period.

Just over 20% of El Paso County’s registered voters cast a ballot early — down more than 37,600 voters from the same time in 2018. Turnout has been particularly lower among women and young people, who have been slow to go to the polls and who Democrats at the top of the ballot are banking on to secure them victory.

The last three days of early voting in El Paso saw the largest numbers of voters, with 16,091 people casting a ballot in person on Friday. That could indicate higher-than-usual numbers of Election Day voters. In 2018, El Paso County saw just over 65,000 people casting ballots in person on Election Day, for a final 45% turnout.

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, with...