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In some counties, early voting means long lines

Texas election officials generally encourage folks to cast their votes early to avoid long lines on Election Day.

Voters line up before an early voting station opens in Houston early Monday morning, October 24, 2016. Poll workers said the lines are much longer than normal for early voting.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Avoiding long lines on Election Day is supposed to be one of the benefits of voting early, but on the first official day to cast ballots in Texas, some parts of the state reported long waits — sometimes hours — along with a few other snafus.

Particularly long waits were reported in parts of Bexar, Harris, Nueces and Denton counties, with one expert suggesting this year’s intense presidential campaign prompted an early rush to the polls.

Amanda Stephens of Corpus Christi said she tried to vote during her lunch hour, but lengthy waits at two polling stations prompted her to return to work with her franchise unexercised.

Only one voting machine was working at the first station she visited, Stephens said in an interview. There, she was told the wait was two and a half hours. She was redirected to another spot where the expected wait was three hours, she said.

“I usually vote early for the very reason for escaping the lines, and this year that didn’t happen, so we’ll try again,” Stephens said, adding that she can’t recall such trouble during previous elections. 

Nueces County Clerk Kara Sands said she hadn’t heard of waits that long, but did note a “huge turnout” at certain polling places led to long lines at the county courthouse and other popular polling places. Some particularly eager voters even showed up an hour before the polls opened, Sands said, apparently because the local newspaper had printed the wrong hours for voting.

Voters also reported long lines in Harris County on Monday. The county clerk's office said about 53,000 had cast ballots as of 4:30 p.m., with 90 minutes left to vote. That tally already surpassed the roughly 47,000 votes cast on the first day of early voting during the 2012 presidential election. 

In San Antonio, state Rep. Ina Minjarez, a Democrat, said she waited more than an hour to vote at a library in her district. 

In Denton County, problems with voting machines made for particularly long waits Monday morning. Voting at 11 polling places started late because voting machines were programmed for Election Day rather than the early voting period — meaning they needed to be reprogrammed as folks were waiting in line.

That county also saw particularly high turnout, said Lannie Noble, its elections administrator. “It appears to be county-wide. We’ve got a lot of interest in voting,” he said.

Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, suggested the intensity of this year’s presidential race spurred some voters to rush to the polls.

“This has been such a drawn out, intense and polarizing election that there’s this reservoir of voters that couldn’t wait to cast their vote, so they all rushed out to vote early on the first of 12 days of early voting,” he said, likening the phenomenon to opening day at an amusement park.

Jones said he expected the interest to level out over most of the early voting period, with high turnout on its last day, Nov. 4. 

He also noted that the high turnout was spread unevenly within counties and across the state. 

Indeed, on social media, many voters reported short wait times to The Texas Tribune. 

Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, said it was difficult to say whether the surge in turnout at certain polling places would continue throughout early voting “or if it’s just reflective of pent-up demand.”

“Historically, presidential elections tend to attract more voters, especially when there is not an incumbent in the White House,” she said.

Monday was also an early test for a temporary legal fix to the state’s voter identification law. In August, a federal judge drew up a path to cast a ballot for those who do not have — and cannot “reasonably obtain” — one of seven acceptable forms of photo identification.

Molly Neck, an attorney, tweeted a photo of an outdated poster at Castle Hills City Hall purporting to detail “Photo ID required for Texas Voters." It did not include voting options for those unable to obtain photo ID.

Neck tweeted that she reported the error to Bexar County election officials. Cascos later tweeted that the poster had been removed. 

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Politics 2016 elections Voter ID