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TURNOUT SPOTLIGHT: Port Arthur city voting trails county election numbers

The turnout for the Port Arthur city general and special elections trails that for races included on the Jefferson County ballot, but Mayor Thurman Bartie on Wednesday expressed optimism over the rate at which registered voters in the city are going to the polls.

City Secretary Sherri Bellard confirmed 12 percent of registered voters in Port Arthur have cast ballots through the first six days of early voting (Oct. 13-16, 19 and 20), which will remain open each day through Oct. 30. That rate exceeded the 10 percent that turned out for the 2019 mayoral election — a percentage Bellard called a record for the city.

But while 5,520 have cast county ballots at Port Arthur’s two early voting sites, 3,469 Port Arthurans have voted in the city election.

“When we’re looking at it statistically, we’re doing good,” Bartie said. “When we look at the aggregate voters, that’s not good, but you have to look at it from the standpoint of how we vote in Port Arthur. When we take that same view and see the number of people who vote in Port Arthur, some Port Arthurans choose not to vote Port Arthur city council.”

Port Arthur voters must fill out two ballots to participate in all elections from the local to federal levels. The city election was not included on the Jefferson County ballot, which also includes countywide, statewide and federal elections including the race for president.

County election officials said Port Arthur city officials did not turn in updated and correct information regarding voters’ addresses in each precinct and city council district by the Sept. 1 deadline. The district lines were last updated in October 2011, and county officials said the problem has been ongoing since.

Bartie said earlier this month the county could have further assisted the city in the matter. Instead, one voting line for each ballot is formed at both the Port Arthur Public Library and Jefferson County Sub-Courthouse.

Inconvenience?

The mayor said he spent 1½ hours in the city line at the library and had to come back to vote on the county ballot.

“There are some who had to stay in the lines for two hours,” Bartie said. “I applaud those individuals.”

Bartie suggested “voter apathy” for local government — and possibly the lack of voting convenience — are leding to lower numbers in the Port Arthur election thus far.

“I think it’s the known understanding of municipal government,” he said. “What folk have to know is we’re the closest government to them. That should cause a person to really vote in elections. I think voter apathy is a learned behavior. Some people will hide behind some philosophical belief.”

The city ballot includes the general election for races in all six councilmember positions (other than Bartie’s) and the special election for which nine propositions will be voted.

Bellard said Port Arthur averages a 4 to 7 percent turnout for city elections, adding the turnout reached as high as 5 percent if a mayoral race was not included. The next mayoral election in the city is scheduled for 2022.

“All we can do is encourage everyone to vote and have that opportunity,” Bartie said. “Realistically, we’re still going to have a good turnout in correlation to last elections.”

County count

Meanwhile, 44,673 in Jefferson County have cast their ballots out of 149,618 registered voters (29.9 percent) through the first six early voting days. That includes 3,888 at the Port Arthur Public Library (where 2,222 voted in the city election) and 1,632 at the Sub-Courthouse (1,247 for the city election there).

County Clerk Carolyn Guidry reacted “Wow!” at first glance of the total county number, which exceeded 38,844 through six days of early voting in 2016.

“If they keep up at this pace, that would be great,” Guidry said. “I like to see it at this pace.”

Of the 10,500 mail-in ballots the county has sent out, 6,400 have been returned, beating the six-day pace in 2016 by more than 1,000, Guidry said. Friday is the last day that either a county ballot sent by mail can be postmarked or faxed to the county clerk’s office; if faxed, the original must be received in the office four days afterward.

Bellard said Wednesday her office was tallying the number of Port Arthur mail-in ballots received.

Voting info

Bellard said Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs has approved Port Arthur’s 10 Election Day polling locations to be vote centers, meaning residents can vote at either location regardless of precinct Nov. 3. There will still be a separate line for each ballot, however.

Election Day polling locations include DeQueen Elementary, 740 DeQueen Blvd.; Zion Hill Baptist Church, 5848 Roosevelt Ave.; Port Acres Elementary, 6301 Pat Ave.; O.W. Collins Retirement Center, 4440 Gulfway Dr.; R.L. Gabby Eldridge Center, 5262 S. Gulfway Dr.; Travis Elementary, 1115 Lakeview Ave.; Willie Ryman Center, 3248 39th St.; Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church, 801 Ninth Ave.; the library at 4615 Ninth Ave. and the Sub-Courthouse at 525 Lakeshore Dr.

Early voting in Port Arthur is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. each day through Saturday (Oct. 24), noon-5 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 25) and 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 26-30 at both the library and Sub-Courthouse.

Early voting statistics

The unofficial numbers of Port Arthur city ballots and Jefferson County ballots cast through the first six days of early voting in Texas are detailed (Sources: Port Arthur City Secretary and Jefferson County Clerk):

City of Port Arthur ballot

Dates              Sub-Court.     Library

Oct. 13                        292                 395

Oct. 14                        287                 421

Oct. 15                        187                 364

Oct. 16                        183                 397

Oct. 19                        157                 371

Oct. 20                        141                 274

Total                         1,247           2,222

Jefferson County ballot

(Note: Daily totals were not available)

Total              1,632              3,888

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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