‘The Presidential Campaign Makes No Difference Here’: Election Day in Presidio

Poll workers say the county with the lowest turnout in Texas can’t afford voter stickers.

Voters queue up in Presidio County, which historically has had the lowest turnout in Texas.
Voters queue up in Presidio County, which historically has had the lowest turnout in Texas.  Sasha von Oldershausen

PRESIDIO – By 9:30 this morning, about a dozen mostly middle-aged women had formed a line outside the county annex in the town of Presidio, where crowds are a rare sight.

A yellow piece of paper taped to the door indicated that 56 people had voted so far that morning. For the remote border community of 6,000, that’s pretty darn good.

“You better believe it,” said Maria Garcia, who has been working more than 20 years as a clerk in Presidio County, the county with the lowest voter turnout in the state. In 2012, just 36 percent of registered voters cast their ballot. But this is the best turnout she’s seen yet, Garcia said.

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Statistically, poorer communities with large minority populations are less likely to go to the polls. And Presidio County, which is 83 percent Hispanic, fits the bill. Presidio has a nearly 22 percent poverty rate, compared to the statewide average of 17 percent.

But it’s not just about the numbers. For some in the city of Presidio, there is an irreconcilable disconnect between D.C. politicians and the realities of living on the border.

“There’s never been a big change for better,” said Benjamin Ornelas, 30, who has chosen not to vote in this election. “I grew up here. I think the presidential campaign makes no difference here.”

He added, “Congressmen barely even come down. They don’t know what it’s like.”

Jibran Baeza, an 18-year-old high school senior who will also not be casting his ballot, echoed Ornelas’ feelings. “They are so far from what I am that they have no idea what it’s like for us,” Baeza said. “I’m a boy from a middle-to-low class family that has worked constantly.”

In fact, work was a deciding factor in some Presidio residents’ choice to not vote. Alex Sanchez, 23, was on his way to his second job when he told me that he had missed the voter registration cutoff because he couldn’t find the time.

“I have to change the Arkansas plates on my car to Texas, but I can’t even find the time to do that,” he said. “I’m too busy.”

The lack of jobs in the border town has contributed to a common arrangement in which many men travel long distances to work on the oil rigs in Midland and Odessa and only return to their families for the weekend — likely another hindrance to voter turnout.

Still, for those who did exercise their right to vote, there was a palpable sense of urgency. For many — especially those with family on both sides of the border — this election has a lot at stake.

“They really don’t know the impact it will have on the families,” said Marivel Santillan, a teacher at Presidio Elementary who was eager to cast her vote. “I’m here to make my vote count.”

There were no “I voted” stickers available at the polls. “No, ma’am,” Garcia said. “We’re a poor county.”

Follow the rest of the Observer’s coverage of Election Day 2016 here.

Sasha von Oldershausen is an Iranian-American reporter who lives in Far West Texas and has written for New York Magazine, VICE News and Mic, among others. A New Yorker by birth, she moved to Texas a little over a year ago and has never regretted the decision.

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Published at 3:34 pm CST
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