First-time voters help shatter records for turnout in Travis County


TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Voters in Travis County are making their voices heard at the ballot box at levels not previously seen, driven in part by people voting for the very first time.

Travis County set a record Wednesday when the cumulative vote count during the early voting period reached 494,704, which represents more than 57% of registered voters. The county clerk’s office celebrated in a tweet that turnout has now surpassed the overall vote total during the 2016 general election. Williamson and Hays Counties recently achieved the same feat with their voting turnouts, too.

Participating in this election is especially important and meaningful for a few first-time voters in Austin. They agreed to speak with KXAN and participate in a live-streamed conversation Thursday afternoon with digital anchor Will DuPree. Those voters include Saibeth Limon, Ricardo Varela and Zachary Houdek.

Limon works as a human resources coordinator in Austin and voted for the first time this year at age 27. She shared that voting became a “family affair” this time because her mother and father also cast ballots for the first time.

Ricardo Varela

Previously, she said they always felt like their votes may not matter, but she added, “This year, they were like, ‘No, it matters, and we all need to do this.'”

Varela, 35, is originally from Mexico and became a U.S. citizen more than three years ago, so this election marks the first time for him to vote here.

“It’s great,” Varela said. “I’ve seen so many people and friends of mine be able to vote and family being able to vote, and I had that desire to do so. Finally, after a couple of years first being a resident, now as a citizen, I have the ability to do so, so that was the first thing I did when I had the opportunity.”

Zachary Houdek

Houdek grew up in Austin, but the 20-year-old is currently pursuing a degree in international studies at American University in Washington, D.C. He and another student from Texas decided to drive back home just to vote in person after they said their requests for ballots by mail were never processed. In total the trip took about 30 hours and spanned almost 1,500 miles.

Houdek said he voted in the 2018 midterm election, but this year marks the first time he’s casting a ballot for the presidency.

“We decided on Sunday night that they hadn’t been processed, and we had to make our voices heard in this election,” Houdek said, “so we packed up our bags and got a rental car.”

Varela addressed anyone in the community who may be hesitant or ambivalent about casting a ballot this year.

“I think it’s the most basic of things that we have to do as a citizen,” Varela said. “I feel like, personally, if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about politics because you’re not even doing the bare minimum, so if you haven’t voted, just go vote and congratulations.”

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