Almost 2,100 people voted early leading up to Saturday’s joint general election.

Over the eight days of early voting, 2,093 people cast a ballot by mail or at one of the five early voting locations hosted by McLennan County.

The county’s 32 polling centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, County Elections Administrator Kathy Van Wolfe said. Residents can vote at any polling center.

Early voting went smoothly, but officials are hoping for better turnout Saturday, Van Wolfe said. There are 131,119 registered voters in McLennan County.

One location out of the five had by far the largest turnout for early voting. Van Wolfe said she doesn’t know why everyone tends to flock to First Assembly of God Church on Bosque Boulevard to cast their ballot during early voting, but almost 57 percent of early ballots were cast there.

“That’s a favorite stopping point, I guess,” she said.

This year, 1,185 residents voted at the church.

Turnout this year surpassed the 1,215 early voters in the May 2015 election, which featured three city and two school races.

A countywide referendum every voter in the county can weigh in on may be boosting interest.

The referendum is on a proposal to create a 2 percent hotel occupancy tax and a 5 percent tax on short-term car rentals. The tax is projected to raise more than $34.4 million for an overhaul of the 60-acre Extraco Events Center.

The overhaul would include a new 800-square-foot multipurpose center connected to the existing coliseum and the rebuilding of Waco ISD’s Paul Tyson Field and the Lake Air Little League facilities. The fairgrounds have a $47 million economic impact on the area, which could jump to $60 million with the overhaul allowed by the referendum, according to a Baylor University study.

Friends of the Heart O’ Texas Fairground submitted a campaign finance report detailing expenditures and contributions from April 6-28. During that time, the organization received $14,350 in political contributions, including $10,000 from the McLennan County Fair. The group received 10 donations, four of which were in the amount of $1,000. Two of the donations came from banks, including one from Extraco Bank.

The organization also reported it spent $9,975 on advertising.

There is one contested race on the Waco City Council.

District 5 Councilman Jim Holmes faces Deanna Leach for a two-year term representing residents in the West Waco and China Spring area.

Holmes has so far received three times as much in campaign contributions as Leach. Campaign finance reports show Holmes received $6,675 in contributions and spent $12,071 as of April 27. Leach reported $2,624 in contributions and $1,118 in expenditures.

Holmes’ contributors include:

Lyndon and Kay Olson, Rick and Lisa Sheldon, Terry and Susan DeWitt, Bill and Dwana Nesbitt, Monte and Shelley Hulse, Fred and Camille Johnson, John Mayfield III, Murray Watson Jr., Stewart Kelly, William Pakis, Gordon and Valerie Robinson, Scott Bland, William Clifton Jr., Peter and Marjorie Kultgen, Rondy Gray, Todd Moore, W.W. Taylor, Mark and Cindy Boyd, David Lacy, Cynthia Holmes, Cathy Restivo, Gloria Young, Curtis and Jana Cleveland, Susan J. Taylor, Michael and Karen Baldwin, Don Berhinger, Harry Harelik, Steve Dow, Todd Armstrong, Gary Vogel, Joyce Jones, and Carl and Sue Cox.

Leach’s contributors include:

Davin Hightower, Kris Cervantes, Meredith Sutton, Rebecca Warren, Sandra Bennett, Susan Ryals, Kay Wilson, Steven Fagan, Denise Leach, Rachel Stone, Leslie Leach, Brenda Griffey, Janet Barger, Iliana Newman, Bill Matta, Rick Cathey, Toni Herbert, Mary Duty, Julie Burleson, Bonnie Lesley, and Lee Van Wagner.

Other McLennan County cities and school districts partnered with the county to hold a joint election, including the cities of Waco, Bellmead and Lacy Lakeview. Lorena ISD and Midway ISD are also part of the joint general election.

  • Bellmead: Incumbent Travis Gibson faces newcomers Linda Ione Robinson and George Melvin Cleveland.
  • Lacy Lakeview: Incumbents Barbara Seitz and Bruce Bundrant face David C. Finch III, Sharon Clark, and David A. Garcia with three at-large seats on the ballot.
  • Lorena ISD: Incumbents David Busch and Mary Timmons face Kristi Rowan Humphreys with two at-large seats on the ballot.
  • Midway ISD: Incumbent Susan Vick faces Eloisa “Ella” Esparza.

Four city councils and two school districts in the area are holding elections independent of McLennan County’s joint general election and have their own early voting times and locations.

  • Beverly Hills: Incumbents Kurt Vance and Lance Leuschner face LucyAnn Sanchez with two council seats on the ballot.
  • McGregor: Tony Ocampo faces A. Roderick Cammon for the Ward 5 at-large seat. Frank Leos did not refile after serving for 27 years.
  • Valley Mills: Incumbent Ray Bickerstaff faces Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Wittmer for the seat as mayor.
  • Marlin: Two council seats and the mayoral seat are on the ballot. Shirley F. King, Demetrius Beachum and John Keefer look to replace Mayor Elizabeth Nelson, who is stepping down. Susan R. Byrd, Cara Kasner and Nancy J. Duggins look to replace Precinct 1 Councilman Norman D. Erskine. Terence W. McDavid and Michael Magouirk look to replace Precinct 3 Councilwoman Billie Jean Scaggs.
  • Connally ISD: Incumbent Kathy Coker faces Trey Copeland for Place 4 on the board.
  • Valley Mills ISD: Incumbents Alice West and Jim Blackford face Steven Owens, Ted Jones and Josh Thayer with two at-large seats on the ballot. Voters in the school district will also decide on an $8.4 million bond. The proposed bond is expected to increase the tax rate by 18 cents per $100 of value, according to the district, and constituents at least 65 years old with a homestead exemption will not be impacted unless “significant improvements or additions” are made to the home.

Tribune-Herald reporter J.B. Smith contributed to this story.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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