If you don’t vote early, you’ll probably be voting in the rain. 

That’s how Fort Worth resident James Whittenburg sees it, anyway. If he doesn’t vote early, he’s bound to forget, Whittenburg, a retiree who lives in newly created District 11, said. And if he does make it to the polls on Election Day, “Murphy’s Law, it’ll be cold and rainy.”

He was one of 23,171 Tarrant County residents who headed out to the polls during the first week of early voting. Municipal elections in Tarrant County historically have low voter turnout — and that was reflected in the week’s voting totals. Only 1.9% of registered voters cast a ballot from April 24-27, according to Tarrant County Elections data. Early voting continues through May 2.

Retirees like Whittenburg likely make up a significant portion of early votes in Tarrant County so far. A 2022 election poll showed that older residents, especially those 65 and older, are more likely to vote early compared to younger generations. Early voting in the 2020 presidential election showed similar trends

Early voting offers short lines, convenient times

For Whittenburg, low turnout meant no line. He was in and out of the Tarrant County Elections Center at 2700 Premier St. in 5 minutes, his votes cast.

Sue McLean, a District 9 resident, echoed Whittenburg’s sentiment. She always votes early, she said, because of the lack of lines at polling stations. When McLean voted April 26, only 549 people had voted in the District 9 City Council race. 

Another District 9 resident, David Weuste, used to vote on Election Day like clockwork, because he could easily walk to De Zavala Elementary to vote, he said. The primary line for Election Day voting in 2020 was so long, however, that Weuste decided to vote early at the Southside Community Center from then on. 

Throughout early voting this week, the majority of polling locations showed 0 to 30-minute wait times on the county’s interactive map. On Election Day, the wait times often stretch far longer. 

Marvin Stokes, a District 11 resident who voted at the Charles F. Griffin Subcourthouse, cast his ballot with his wife April 24.

“We like to vote early,” Stokes said. “Get it out of the way, make our decisions.” 

Stokes and Whittenburg are both choosing a new council representative this year, after redistricting created District 11 and District 10. By the end of the first week of early voting, 574 residents had voted on who should represent District 11. 

“Two more people ain’t gonna hurt us none,” Stokes said of the new council seats. “It’ll build more diversity.”

Voting before license expiration

District 10 resident Kirk Lowery had a straightforward reason for deciding to vote early: his driver’s license was set to expire. 

“I turned 82 today, and my license expires tomorrow,” he said. 

Lowery, who voted at the Golden Triangle Library in north Fort Worth, said he wasn’t sure if he could get the license renewed again because of his age, but he wanted to make sure he did his part and voted in the election. 

Texas residents can actually use their driver’s license as photo ID at the polls for four years after it expires, according to Texas law. And if a resident, like Lowery, is over 70 years old, the photo ID can be expired for any length of time so long as the information on it is still correct. 

Promoting equity through voting

Bennie Sherman, a District 8 resident who voted at the Charles F. Griffin Subcourthouse at 3210 Miller Ave, said voting early is a matter of convenience. 

“I’m retired, but I’m still pretty busy,” Sherman said. 

Beyond that, Sherman said voting is a way to help “level the playing field” for marginalized residents. He went to a historically Black school, he said, where they didn’t have access to football fields and tracks like the nearby white schools.

“I want to make it level for the generation that is coming behind me,” he said. 

Research has shown that municipal elections held in off-years — years where there isn’t a general election — have a harder time attracting voters, especially nonwhite voters. Cities like San Francisco and Boulder, Colorado, voted last year to move their municipal elections to the same years as general elections in the hopes of boosting participation.

Moving municipal elections in Fort Worth would be a tall task, however. It would require an amendment to both the city charter and state law, and there’s been no movement from the city to amend the charter, nor a move from local legislators to change state law. 

No matter the timing of the election, Sherman has the same view on doing his civic duty. 

“I believe in voting,” he said. 

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Emily WolfGovernment Accountability Reporter

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Round Rock, Texas, she spent several years at the University of Missouri-Columbia majoring in investigative...