Ellis County gets ready for early voting

Randy Gonzales
Special to The Hays Daily News
A drive-thru voting drop box in Victoria.

It’s less than a month to Election Day on Nov. 3, and it is still possible to register to vote. but the deadline is Tuesday. Once a person does register, the Ellis County Clerk’s Office is trying to make it as easy as possible to cast your ballot.

In addition to casting a ballot in person on Election Day at a polling site, voters have the option of early voting and voting by mail. Early voting begins Monday, Oct. 19, and lasts through noon on Monday, Nov. 2. Mail ballots for those who have already requested them will be sent out on Wednesday; mail ballots can still be requested.

Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus, who has been with the office for 41 years and who is retiring in January, said there has been a huge increase in requests for mail ballots.

“We’re already talking close to 4,000 we’re going to send out,” Maskus said.

In the 2012 presidential election, 915 mail ballots were requested (7% of votes cast) and in 2016 there were 984 (8%). In the 2020 primary this summer, there were 2,429 requested mail ballots (31%).

Aware of concerns raised nationally about mail ballots, Maskus said she hopes everything is safe and secure, and added the county has had experience in the past with all mail-in elections, for school board and bond and tax elections that have come before the voter.

Mail ballots can be returned by mail; Maskus emphasized affixing postage. They also can be returned in person at one of nine polling sites in the county on Election Day. Also, they can be dropped off at the clerk’s office or deposited in one of three drop boxes in the county. There is a drop box in the alley south of the administration building at 718 Main, which is checked twice a day. Newly installed drop boxes are in front of the city offices in Ellis and Victoria.

“They’re red, white and blue, they’re patriotic,” Maskus said. “They’re easy to spot.”

The clerk’s office starts verifying signatures on mail ballots as soon as they start coming in. Once signatures are verified, the envelopes go in a box for a three-member board to open, with the ballots inside put in a tabulating machine. Maskus expects that board to convene on Oct. 27. No results will be tabulated until Election Day.

If a signature does not appear to match, at least one other person in the office looks at it. If necessary, the office will attempt to contact the voter to update the signature.

Maskus had to replace 6 of 9 poll supervisors for the primary election. She said some of those who had to be replaced expressed concerns about COVID-19. All nine poll supervisors from the primary have agreed to volunteer their time for the general election.

An extra person from the clerk’s office will be at each polling site to assist in sanitizing. Maskus said with more mail ballots in this cycle that could ease voting in person but it still will be busy.

“We always hope it is,” Maskus said of a possible high turnout. “I don’t want to have people waiting. There will be lines, I’m sure. We will keep that line moving the best that we can. We respect the voters’ time. It’s just going to take a little bit longer at times. The polls probably are going to be busy at 8 a.m., probably at noon, that 6 o’clock is probably going to be the busiest.”

After the election, a three-member board audits the ballots. The election is canvassed on Nov. 16 before the county commissioners who are the board of canvassers.

Maskus expects a high turnout for the election. In 2012, Ellis County had 65% of 18,283 registered voters go to the polls. For 2016, of 18,314 registered voters there was a 67% turnout. As of Friday, there are 18,726 registered voters for next month’s election.

Maskus said she has been too busy to reflect on this being her last election. She started working out front in the office, became deputy clerk and has served two terms as clerk, which ends Jan. 13.

“I love working with the community,” Maskus said. “My staff is terrific. They’re hard workers; they want it right. We work together and I really do appreciate that.”