EL PASO, Texas - About one in every seven El Pasoans who voted so far in the midterm election cast their first-ever vote in the county, an analysis of El Paso County Elections Department data shows.
Through Thursday, 16,746 of the 123,588 ballots in early voting came from people with no prior history of voting in El Paso. Those new voters – when combined with people who vote occasionally, but not in every election – have helped El Paso shatter midterm voting records. About six-in-ten of this year's early voters didn't cast a ballot in El Paso in the 2014 midterm election. Nearly one-in-five didn't vote here in the 2016 presidential election.
El Pasoans have already cast more votes through eleven days of early voting than they had in any prior midterm election, early voting and Election Day combined. The previous high was 103,000 votes in 2002. El Paso is on a pace to cast 180,000 or more ballots this year.
Some of the new voters may have cast ballots in other locations before moving to El Paso, but the vast majority of these voters seem to be longtime El Pasoans casting ballots for the first time anywhere.
"It's important for me to vote this year, and every year after, because I believe that the change begins in the youth. We will never see the results we want for our community if we do not actively participate in what will cause them to change," said Elizabeth Youngblood, 18, a senior at Irvin High School.
Estevan William Mesa, an 18-year-old El Pasoan now studying at Columbia University in New York, mailed his first ballot to his hometown this month. "I question whether a democracy can still be considered a democracy if its members do not vote," he said, adding that he hopes his vote encourages his peers to do the same. "I hope that my political excitement and act of voting will motivate others to be politically aware and involved so that they continue to vote in all elections, allowing the people to accurately be represented. There is great momentum coming from the youth, and every vote is propelling that passion forward."
The largest group of new El Paso voters is under age 30, but they come from all ages. About 11 percent of first-time El Paso voters this year is over age 65.
"My children and my husband always vote, but I couldn't because I was not a citizen. I became a citizen this year and registered right away," said Delia Reveles, 74, who lives in the Lower Valley. "I wanted to be able to vote along with my family. I was very happy to participate. I am very worried about the things the president is saying about Mexicans and immigrants. I want to make sure that I voted so that I can elect people that support me and my family."
Concern about Trump, and a desire to support hometown Democratic senate candidate Beto O'Rourke, appear to be motivation for many new El Paso voters.
"This year, voting is especially important because our core values, norms, and pillars of democracy have been continually threatened by the current administration," said Garrett Cunningham, 21, a student at Washington University in St. Louis who voted by mail. "More specifically, I am choosing to vote in my hometown instead of my college town because El Paso and Texas have an extraordinary opportunity in Beto O'Rourke's candidacy. For too long El Paso has been neglected in state and national politics. Having a prominent, national voice for El Paso would be great for our community."
Cunningham said he attempted to vote by mail in the 2016 presidential election, but was unsuccessful. This year, his vote was received, county records show.
All the first-time voters interviewed for this story expressed hope that their vote will inspire others to do the same.
"Hispanics are strong and we have a lot of us living here in the United States," Reveles said. "But we don't vote and we can't complain if we don't vote. My message is to vote and show everyone that we have a lot of power, that we deserve respect."
Robert Moore, ABC-7's exclusive 2018 election analyst, is an El Paso journalist who has covered local and state politics since 1986.