Carole Saiz could not vote in United States elections until she was nearly 40.
She realized right away how important it was to take advantage of that opportunity.
Saiz, a 48-year-old Lebanon native who lives in Oak Forest and runs a tutoring service, became an American citizen in 2009 and has since capitalized on each of her chances to cast a ballot. She voted Tuesday morning at Black Middle School, where she carried a purse emblazoned with an image of the American flag.
“Nobody should take it for granted,” Saiz said. “Every election is important.”
For area citizens and beyond, the midterm election that ended Tuesday might have been as important as any other cycle, including presidential elections. Houston-area ballots included a hotly contested and nationally consequential U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke, an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and citywide propositions related to increased pay for firefighters and the allocation of funds to combat flooding.
Both propositions passed with the backing of The Leader’s coverage area, which voted decidedly Democrat in the senate and house races. Area voters helped to re-elect Sheila Jackson Lee as U.S. Representative for District 18 and supported Democrat Todd Litton in his District 2 race against Republican Dan Crenshaw, who prevailed in the overall race.
O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat who garnered national attention during the campaign, was overwhelmingly supported by The Leader’s coverage area but lost a close statewide race against Cruz. Area voters backed O’Rourke by a margin of 33,178-17,183, with Cruz prevailing in only two of 32 area precincts.
Multiple area residents cited the polarizing effect of President Donald Trump, elected in 2016, as the cause for increased interest in the midterm. There are those who support him and wanted the Republican Party to maintain congressional majorities and those who oppose him and wanted Democrats to take control.
Both sides got a little of what they wanted, with Republicans keeping their majority in the senate but losing it in the house.
“It seems a lot more are involved,” Oak Forest resident Alberto Ramirez said. “People are getting out and casting their votes.”
According to a Saturday report by the Texas Tribune, preliminary data showed there was greater turnout during the 12 days of early voting than there was for the entire 2014 midterm election. There were more than 20,500 early votes cast in The Leader’s coverage area, according to data released by Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, and nearly 856,000 early votes within the county in total.
There still were long lines at some area polling locations early Tuesday morning, with the volume of voters at several spots decreasing throughout the day.
“If they’re motivated, I feel like they already got it done,” said Heights resident Max Rosen, who voted Tuesday evening at Heights High School.
Signs of interest in the election were evident during the last several weeks, particularly with the amount of yard signs dotting area neighborhoods. Ramirez said he saw more political signs in Oak Forest than he had during his previous 25 years in the community, with the majority of them promoting one of the candidates in the senate race.
“I think Beto’s got a few more,” Oak Forest resident Debby Wade said. “I think people for Ted Cruz are probably embarrassed to put a sign out.”
Regardless of which candidates were preferred, and whether or not the citywide propositions were supported or opposed, the importance of participating in the election could hardly be argued.
Heights resident Julia Solway voted for only the second time in her 26 years of eligibility and brought along her two sons, 5-year-old Aidan and 4-year-old Conor, to commemorate the occasion. The young boys seemed mostly disinterested Tuesday evening, but their mother hopes the experience will resonate by the time they are old enough to cast ballots.
Oak Forest resident Lynsey Flowers said she originally did not plan to vote but was persuaded to do so by her friends. Afterward, she was glad she did.
“It’s my right to vote and I have no right to complain if I don’t vote,” she said.