With early voting for the runoff election set to begin Tuesday, the six school board candidates on the ballot have spent the past month reminding voters that “every vote counts,” especially when turnout might be low.
The June 10 runoff ballot has two El Paso Independent School District trustee seats up for grabs, as well as one Ysleta Independent School District board seat and the Horizon City mayor’s race.
Early voting locations will be open from Tuesday to June 6.
The hot topic among those vying for a school board trustee seat is turnout. While more than 53,000 voters turned out for the May 6 election, the candidates are fully aware that much of that was because of the Climate Charter, or Prop K.
The YISD school board race drew 1,247 voters and the two EPISD races drew about 3,000 and 5,000 voters. The last EPISD school board runoff in June 2021 drew slightly less than 2,000 votes.
“Because this is a directed campaign at only one geographic area of EPISD, coupled with it being a runoff, every vote counts,” said Alex Cuellar, an assistant El Paso County attorney who is seeking to represent the Burges-Jefferson area on the EPISD board. “The community members, as taxpayers, can rest assured I will be fiscally responsible, provide greater safety to all campuses, and ensure their voices and concerns will be heard.”
Cuellar, 39, is being challenged by Will Veliz, 28, a self-employed Realtor and the owner of Veliz Real Estate. Veliz received 42% of the vote in May. Cuellar received 43%. Since neither got more than 50%, they are in the runoff.
Veliz said he has spent the past couple of weeks talking to constituents.
“They are yearning for change, and I am that change,” Veliz said. “By talking to constituents, I’ve been able to identify their concerns and I will take care of them.”
The concerns for both candidates in the EPISD District 6 race include student safety, teacher appreciation and being fiscally responsible.
The other EPISD board race involves Jacqueline Martinez and Valerie Ganelon Beals. They are seeking to represent the Franklin High School area. Ganelon Beals got 30% of the vote in May. Martinez received 26%.
“Something I have noticed during block walking is that not many people were even aware that there is a runoff election,” Martinez said. “I will continue making as much in-person contact as humanly possible because nothing beats face-to-face canvassing.”
Martinez, 40, is a graduate of Franklin High School and has been a teacher for 13 years, currently with the Canutillo Independent School District.
“It is my firm belief that teachers belong on school boards because we offer a unique insight and perspective into how policy directly impacts students,” she said.
Ganelon Beals, 34, a stay-at-home mom and small business owner, has been busy reminding voters to come out.
“With Prop K no longer on the ballot, we have to remind people that voting for the school boards is just as important,” Ganelon Beals said. “The school elections are the most important because they affect everyone because we all pay property taxes.”
The YISD trustee race to represent the Ysleta High School area features the two candidates who beat the incumbent, Sotero Ramirez, who finished third in the race.
Deborah “Debbie” Torres, who worked as a paraprofessional at YISD before becoming a program manager at UTEP, received 41% of the vote on May 6. Chris Hernandez finished second with 39%.
“I am striving to speak to as many voters as possible, informing them about the upcoming runoff and the need to vote again,” said Hernandez, an organizer working for political campaigns, nonprofit organizations and elected officials. “The community members of YISD 6 deserve a trustee who embodies integrity.”
Torres said she is reminding voters about her time as an educator, also telling them that each vote is critical. She is offering rides to the polls.
“I am committed to ensuring that our tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently to ensure that our kids and our teachers and staff will have the very best educational resources available to them,” she said.