Nearly 200,000 Travis County residents have voted early in person since the polls opened on Oct. 13. With 12 days left before the early voting period ends on Oct. 30, and photos circulating on social media of long lines, Austonia has ranked the 37 local polling places by popularity.
The first four days of early voting saw successively higher turnout—growing from 35,873 on Tuesday to 41,265 on Friday—with a dropoff over the weekend, according to the Travis County Clerk's Office.
As of lunchtime Monday, more than 13,000 people had voted early.
Six days into the early voting period for the 2016 general election, 180,433 Travis County residents had voted early in person.
Voter turnout this election is already breaking local records.
The Travis County Clerk's Office reported 41,265 people voted early in person on Friday, a new local record.
Additionally, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said last week that her office had already received more than 78,000 mail-in ballot applications and expects that number to grow to around 100,000 by the Oct. 29 deadline. In comparison, her office sent out only 27,000 mail-in ballots ahead of the 2016 general election.
As of Sunday, DeBeauvoir's office had received 35,696 mail-in ballots for tallying.
In other record-setting news, more than 850,000 Travis County residents—of 97% of eligible voters—registered by the state's Oct. 5 deadline, according to the Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant.
Around 78% of voting age Texans were registered to vote during the 2016 general election, according to the Texas Secretary of State's office. Of those, nearly 60% of registered voters turned out.
Polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
The following six sites will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 28; Thursday, Oct. 29; and Friday, Oct. 30:
- Ben Hur Shrine Center
- Millennium Youth Complex
- PfISD Rock Gym
- South Park Meadows, Suite 400
- South Park Meadows, Suite 500
- Austin Central Library
Residents can find wait time estimates for each location here, whether they are registered to vote here, voter identification requirements in Texas here, their personal ballot here and some races to watch here.
Many local businesses are also encouraging voting by offering specials—from a free slice of pizza to a discounted pint—to those who bring in their "I voted" or "Yo voté" sticker.
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Chi Lee, the director of architecture firm HKS’s new Austin office, describes this point in our city’s life as puberty.
“Our voices are changing and we have freckles everywhere,” Lee said. “You know, starting to look like an adult but still acting like a kid kind of thing.”
But as Austin matures and faces all the pressures of its increased popularity—competing for company relocations and expansions all while managing rising rents and affordability woes—Lee thinks we should look outside when planning an approach to Austin’s growth.
“A big mistake we could make is if we don't embrace what other cities, nationally, regionally, internationally have done to improve upon the experience of all the folks who live there.”
Chi Lee and Brad Wilkins (HKS)
Lee and HKS studio design leader Brad Wilkins keep this in mind as the firm, which has carried out projects in Austin since the 80s, further cements its presence here.
HKS is making ambitious strides in Austin: the firm has more than 50 projects in design or under construction in the Austin market, including Domain 9, the Dell Children’s Medical Center expansion and projects in the Rainey Street District including one that may end up being the tallest tower in Texas.
The Bowie, a 36-story apartment tower HKS designed in Austin's Central Business District. (HKS)
“We've been able to do things during the pandemic, and since then, which are really pushing the boundaries of what Austin would typically do. And frankly, what would be done anywhere in the world,” Wilkins said. “Things like having outdoor space on every level of an office tower and creating the spaces not just to be like outdoor spaces, but to be spaces that people can actually enjoy.”
As these projects span all over the city, Lee and Wilkins are observant of how action on certain quality of life factors could be key to preventing problems as Austin draws in a larger population.
For Wilkins, that’s informed by his international work. He’s lived in about half a dozen places in Europe and Asia, starting his career out in Chicago. He’s carried out big projects and was one of the designers of the first LEED platinum building just outside of Hong Kong.
“One thing that we're always needing to be very careful about is looking at things that were not done great,” Wilkins said. “There are mistakes in public transportation in those cities that I worked in overseas, there are mistakes in public housing.”
It’s partly why the pair see Project Connect—the $7.1 billion transit system expansion voters approved in November 2020 that includes light rail lines, a downtown subway and an expanded bus system—as a boon to the city’s future.
Lee said he’s excited that HKS is working on a couple of projects that are along the future lines and sees it as a massive opportunity for the city.
“We need to get out of our cars if we can. We just don't have the type of transportation infrastructure in place that needs to be in place,” Lee said. “A lot of major metropolitan and urban cities have subway systems and light rail systems and things like that, where we don't.”
The Ashton (HKS)
Still, someday Austin will. The plan is trudging ahead with moves on anti-displacement initiatives and collecting input on design proposals for key lines. So even while HKS prepares for changes to the city from the ground up, Lee and Wilkins aim to maintain the city’s personality.
“I'm always more about the local place, not the international place, even though I do bring with me international experience,” Wilkins said. “Chi and I are only interested in doing Austin, we're interested in making Austin special, keeping Austin culture.”
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Fewer than half of the city’s pools will open for summer while the Aquatic Department works to fill out its shriveled roster.
The city needs 750 to be fully staffed and is currently working with a pool of 234 lifeguards—31% of employees needed—on staff as of Monday. Come June 6, only 15 of the city’s 34 pools will open.
The job pays between $16-$19 an hour, anyone over 15 can get certified and there are bonuses to the tune of $1,250 on the table but some workers and city representatives say the pay doesn’t match the work.
Barton Springs Pool lifeguard Scott Cobb told Austonia the job is “very satisfying,” which is why he’s been doing it for the last 11 years. However, Cobb believes the shortage can be partially attributed to wages not rising alongside inflation, unpaid training, limited benefits and unstable hours.
(City of Austin)
“If you factor in the increase in inflation over the last three years and rent, our pay has actually gone down. We've taken a pay cut in order to remain lifeguards,” Cobb said. “People work 30-40 hours, get as many hours as they can, but they don't have any money left and a living wage means that at the end of the month, you're supposed to have some money left.”
Cobb has been advocating for Austin City Council to waive the $20 registration fee for the lifeguard course, which he said will make going through a 40-hour unpaid training more accessible, and raise lifeguard wages to $22/hour in October.
The cause has gained the support of Council Members Vanessa Fuentes and José Vela, a former Barton Springs lifeguard himself, who both said they support raising wages to $22/hour.
Cobb said that it is hard to qualify for benefits, hours fluctuate depending on the season, there is a physical demand for the job, and lifeguards are not given paid time off or holiday pay, despite having to work most holidays.
“Although I have health insurance through the city, I'm afraid that in October when they reevaluate I will lose that health insurance because of the closing of the pools,” Cobb said. “The reason there's a lifeguard shortage is because at the current rate, people do not want to do this job.”
A May 9 presentation by Vela showed the proposed compensation structure for lifeguards, mentioning how cities like Phoenix curbed shortages by paying higher bonuses and proposed raising pool entrance fees by $1-3 to help offset costs.
“The type of people who work at Barton Springs enjoy it the most on the busiest days,” Cobb said. “It's satisfying to save people's lives and bring them out of the water. They're grateful... It's a job to help people and people enjoy that as long as they can, but there's a limit and people rely on better paying jobs.”
Starting on Memorial Day, Barton Springs Pool will resume Monday operations. Click here to see a full list of opening pools.