*Editor's note: This story has been updated.
Todd Beckett, a local insurance agent and Presidio County's GOP chair, initially planned to offer only early voting to Republicans in the sparsely populated — and largely Democratic — county in Far West Texas. But the party’s headquarters in Austin instructed him otherwise on Monday, prompting him to drive across mountains and desert scrub in search of a polling location for election day.
Beckett finally found a place to set up shop Monday afternoon, and Presidio County’s few Republicans will have a spot to vote Tuesday.
“Oh hell no,” Beckett had said in a phone interview Monday afternoon when asked whether he had originally planned to offer Super Tuesday balloting. “They’ve got two weeks” to vote early.
But at the state party’s prodding, Beckett ultimately settled on the county courthouse lawn in Marfa.
Some years, a handful of counties skip primary elections, usually because no one volunteers to be the party chair, according to the Texas secretary of state's office. It's rare for counties that have leadership to offer no polling location.
Because parties oversee the primary elections, the state does not ensure that each county opens up polling spots for those races.
“It’s not a general election, where you’re electing people. It’s a nominating process,” said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the state agency. “If they don’t do it, they don’t do it.”
Of Presidio County’s roughly 5,000 registered voters, only about 80 Republicans showed up to vote early in a year that had no local Republican races, said Beckett. The chair — who once used his tiny office as a polling location — figured no one else would want to show up on election day.
“Nobody runs locally as a Republican,” he said. “You can’t get public office here if you’re a Republican.”
But the chair did recently receive one call from a woman who missed her chance and wanted to vote on election day. And when the state GOP discovered the lack of polling plans on Monday morning, it took action.
“This came to our attention, and then we just took care of it,” said Michael Joyce, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas.
Beckett secured the Marfa courthouse lawn late Monday afternoon. How will he advertise the poll opening in a county 1.5 times the size of Delaware?
“Put a big sign on Main Street,” he said. "Small town.”
*Editor's note: A previous version, citing information from the Texas secretary of state's office, said that Zavala County had no election day polling location for the Republican primary. A GOP spokesman said Monday night that the party had chosen a location.