With days to go before Saturday’s school and city elections, voter turnout already is the highest in years.
Early voting ended Tuesday, and 1,215 votes were cast in the joint election among the city of Waco, Waco Independent School District, the cities of Bellmead and Lorena and Lorena Independent School District.
Three contested Waco City Council races drove most of the turnout, led by a District 4 race that has drawn an unusual level of attention.
The race between Baylor University administrator Ashley Thornton and attorney Dillon Meek has resulted in 516 early votes, a striking contrast to previous years. In the 2013 District 4 race, only 63 early votes were cast, and incumbent Toni Herbert collected 104 of the final 117 votes.
Herbert also won the 2011 race, in which only 104 early votes and 253 total votes were cast.
With Herbert stepping down, a spirited race has developed between the two political newcomers.
Meek, 30, an attorney with Rydell Capital, is squaring off with Thornton, 53, a Baylor administrator known for her work on a community antipoverty initiative and the Act Locally Waco website.
Meek has raised more than $10,000, while Thornton has raised $5,600 — amounts unheard of in past District 4 elections.
The race between Councilman Kyle Deaver and veterans medical official Robert Cervantes drew 467 votes in District 5. Turnout is usually strong in the West Waco district for contested elections. But in the past two elections, the District 5 incumbent has faced no challengers.
In District 2, which comprises South Waco, 91 votes have been cast. Incumbent Alice Rodriguez, 71, faces a challenge from Jake Russell, 24, a real estate agent and small-business owner.
A breakdown of early votes was not available for Waco ISD’s single school board race. East and North Waco voters in Place 2 will choose among three candidates: Incumbent Colbert Murphy, teacher Stephanie Korteweg and pastor the Rev. Pamela Rivera.
A vote breakdown was also not available for the Lorena, Lorena ISD and Bellmead elections.
In Midway ISD, which is holding its own election, 412 people voted in the contest between incumbent Tom Pagel and Ross O. Larson.
In Hewitt, where incumbent Travis Bailey is contending with a challenge from former councilman Charlie Turner, 77 people voted early.