More McLennan County residents voted early than in the 2012 or 2014 primary elections as voters seek to pick a side in the highly contested sheriff’s race, among other local and national measures on the ballot.
Early voting came to an end Friday night, drawing 14,615 ballots out of the 127,950 registered voters in the county. Of those, 12,054 voted Republican and 2,561 voted Democrat.
The March 2014 primary election drew 6,025 early voters, and in May 2012, the last primary election with presidential contests, 10,211 residents cast their ballot early.
Registered voters can cast their ballot from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at any of the county’s vote centers.
If a runoff is needed, it will be May 24.
Besides the three Republicans vying for the head law enforcement seat, residents will elect two county commissioners, a county GOP chairman, the state representative for District 12 and the U.S. representative for District 17, among other statewide races.
Ralph Patterson is running against U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, in the Republican primary and had to resign from his post as party chairman. Patterson and Flores are vying for the District 17 seat, along with Grosebeck businessman Kaleb Sims, 38, who works in a metal fabrication and machining business founded by his father and uncle. The winner will face Democrat Bill Matta, a McLennan Community College English instructor, in November 2016. District 17 includes Waco.
Patterson’s resignation opened the door for a new chairperson of the county GOP. Jeb Leutwyler, 63, the county GOP vice chairman, who moved into the interim chairman’s slot, is vying for the seat against Waco attorney Jon Ker, 68.
With no Democrat in the race, McLennan County residents could choose the next sheriff Tuesday.
After one term in office, incumbent Parnell McNamara faces two challengers — one he’s seen before. Voters will pick between McNamara, 69, of Waco, Waco police Sgt. Patrick Swanton, 54, of China Spring, and Pastor Willie Tompkins, 66, of Robinson.
McNamara said he’s been encouraged by voters on the campaign trail who have supported the work he’s done as sheriff. He said he’s looking forward to a good victory.
McNamara has considerably outspent his opponents campaigning and has attracted high-dollar donations.
From July 1, 2015 through Feb. 20, McNamara received $125,320 in political contributions and spent $111,973, according to his reports. He’s been endorsed by the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, the largest law enforcement association in Texas; the Sheriffs Law Enforcement Association of McLennan County; the Waco Association of Realtors; Waco Good- Fellas; the Bellmead Police Officers Association; and Ted Nugent.
McNamara has campaigned on accomplishments while in office, including increased patrols and arrests. He said he’s also proud of establishing an Organized Crime Unit and a Fugitive Apprehension and Special Task Unit and has touted the department’s bomb squad’s efforts in assisting surrounding counties. McNamara said he’s proud of the work done through the Criminal Investigation Division, which resulted in 139 arrests over the past year in four prostitution and child predator stings.
Swanton has referenced some of those same examples in saying he would make a better sheriff.
Swanton, team leader of the Hostage Negotiation Unit, has said the sheriff’s role is about more than throwing people behind bars. Swanton has said a sheriff should excel at leadership, moving the department forward and focusing on employee training and retention.
Swanton, who was endorsed by the Waco Police Association, has said one of his first acts in office would be to move deputies back into the unincorporated areas of the county to keep residents without a city police department safe. He said he also wants to assign a deputy to the local U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force.
Swanton has touted his leadership abilities, varied experiences and personal law enforcement track record throughout the campaign. Swanton served the Waco Police Department in patrol, as a SWAT officer, as a DARE and Crime Prevention officer, spokesman, sergeant and as supervisor of the Hostage Negotiation Unit.
From July 17, 2015 through Feb. 20, Swanton received $49,024 in political contributions and spent $42,188, according to his latest report.
Tompkins, who has said several times he only needs the people’s endorsement, received $2,148 in political contributions and spent $1,660, according to his reports.
This is Tompkins’ second attempt at gaining the sheriff’s seat. He ran in 2012 as a Democrat against McNamara and received 29 percent of the vote.
“Law enforcement just hasn’t done its job in the wake of Twin Peaks and people dying in the jail and the sheriff getting sued,” he said. “If the people got the message and vote their conscience, I have a good shot at (being elected).”
Tompkins said he has more than 17 years of experience in law enforcement in McLennan County, including nine years as a Waco police officer, seven years as chief investigator for the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office and as chief of the McLennan Community College Police Department.
Tompkins has said a sheriff should be more involved in the community, and the office needs to undergo more sensitivity training. He said he would also like to start a program for youth.
Tompkins said people have stolen his campaign signs during this process, taking one out of his sister’s yard.
Residents also will elect two county commissioners Tuesday, one for Precinct 1 and the other for Precinct 3.
Cory Priest 49, of Lorena, has challenged incumbent Commissioner Kelly Snell for the Precinct 1 seat, which includes parts of Waco, Beverly Hills, Robinson, Golinda, Lorena, Bruceville-Eddy and Moody.
Snell, owner of Texas Electrical Energy Savers Inc., is seeking a third term, while Priest, owner of Priest Cattle Co., is vying for his first chance to serve. Both candidates are running as Republicans.
Snell, 57, of Robinson, raised $14,345 and spent $14,878, according to his reports. Snell also received $1,500 from the Texas Association of Realtors. Snell was first elected in 2009 after defeating three-term incumbent Wendall Crunk in the 2008 Republican primary.
Since July 1, Priest, who also owns real estate and is co-owner of a construction company in Waco, has received $5,338 in political contributions and spent $11,407, according to his reports.
Priest has said he’s a true conservative and that Snell has outspent Republican commissioners on the court by more than $4 million in the past four years on road maintenance. He has said he will fight to decrease spending and improve accountability and transparency.
Snell has said that with the second-largest precinct he naturally has a larger budget and spends that money taking care of the roads. He’s said he is the most conservative member of the court, voting against items, including granting the county treasurer a more than $15,000 raise at the beginning of this fiscal year when the treasurer asked only for a $1,800 raise.
While the Precinct 1 race has focused mainly on conservatism, the Precinct 3 race has had its own issues.
Ben Matus, who is running for the Precinct 3 seat against Commissioner Will Jones, listed a $1,000 campaign contribution from a corporation on his last campaign finance report. Matus said the listing was an error, one he planned to fix, and should have stated the donation came from the company’s owner.
Corporation officials could face third-degree felony charges and civil penalties if a corporation donates to a candidate, and candidates could face the same if they knowingly accept the contribution.
In the beginning of the race, Matus posted on his website that Jones had twice offered to pay him the price of his filling fee to drop out of the race. Jones confirmed he made the offer, but said it was a business transaction, not a bribe.
Outside of that issue, Jones, 44, of Waco, said, it’s been a fairly quiet race.
Jones defeated Democrat Brian Scott in November 2012 in the race to replace retired Commissioner Joe Mashek. Jones said he’s excited for Tuesday to arrive and has received a lot of positive feedback on the campaign trail. He said he wants to continue to work to protect taxpayers as he has done during the last three years.
Jones said he also wants to continue moving forward with big-ticket projects facing the county, including road work and meeting ADA requirements in county-owned buildings. He will help ensure these projects are carried out in a way that limits the impact on the taxpayers.
From July 1 through Feb. 20, Jones raised $28,405 in political contributions and spent $20,277, according to his reports.
Matus received $1,350 in political contributions and spent $9,465.57 from Jan. 22 through Feb. 20, according to his reports.
Matus, 63, of West, has been an auto-repair instructor at Texas State Technical College for the past 29 years.
McLennan County voting centers
Registered voters can cast their Election Day ballots at any of the vote centers listed below from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Axtell School Athletic Meeting Room, 312 W. Seley, Axtell
Bellmead Civic Center, 3900 Parrish St., Bellmead
Brazos Meadows Baptist Church, 625 S. Hewitt Drive, Hewitt
Bruceville-Eddy ISD Special Events Center, 1 Eagle Drive, Bruceville-Eddy
Calvary Baptist Church, 1001 N. 18th A St., Waco
Central Christian Church, 4901 Lake Shore Drive, Waco
Cesar Chavez Middle School, 700 S. 15th St., Waco
Chalk Bluff Baptist Church, 5993 Gholson Road
China Spring Intermediate School, 4001 Flat Rock Road
Crawford High School, 200 Pirate Drive, Crawford
Fellowship Bible Church, 5200 Speegleville Road
First Assembly of God Church, 6701 Bosque Blvd., Waco
G.W. Carver Middle School, 1601 J. J. Flewellen Road, Waco
Hewitt First Baptist Church, 301 S. First St., Hewitt
H.G. Isbill Junior High, 305 S. Van Buren St., McGregor
Lacy Lakeview Civic Center, 503 E. Craven Ave.
Lorena City Hall, 107-A S. Frontage Road, Lorena
Mart Community Center, 804 E. Bowie Ave., Mart
MCC Conference Center, 4601 N. 19th St., Waco
MHMR Center for Development Services, 3420 W. Waco Drive, Waco
Moody First United Methodist Church, 500 Sixth St., Moody
Riesel ISD Administration Building, 600 E. Frederick St., Riesel
Robinson Community Center, 106 W. Lyndale Ave., Robinson
South Waco Library, 2737 S. 18th St., Waco
Speegleville Baptist Church, 469 Speegle Road, Speegleville
Tennyson Middle School, 6100 Tennyson Drive, Waco
University High School, 3201 S. New Road, Waco
Waco Convention Center, 100 Washington Ave., Waco
Waco High School Richfield Performing Arts Center, 2020 N. 42nd St., Waco
Waco Multi-Purpose Community Center, 1020 Elm Ave., Waco
West Community Center, 200 Tokio Road, West
Woodway First Baptist Church, 13000 Woodway Drive, Woodway