DALLAS—On Nov. 8, 2016, Herlinda Resendiz’s mother went to the polls in East Dallas. She had just become a citizen, and was planning to vote for the first time.
An election clerk had other ideas.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the clerk said, as Resendiz recalled to The Daily Beast. “This line is for citizens only.”
She left the polling station dejected, thinking she probably wouldn’t vote after all. But when Herlinda heard about the incident, she stormed back to the polls with her mom in tow.
“I demanded to see the person that turned her away,” Herlinda, now 27, said. “And I made sure my mom voted.”
Four years later, Herlinda, her mother, and brother were returning to that same polling place as early voting began in their city, but they had more than a racist clerk to worry about. In addition to a century of voter suppression, Texas voters are grappling with a global pandemic, worries of intimidation by poll watchers, and FBI warnings about far-right Boogaloos: gun-toting, Hawaiian shirt-wearing extremists.
In short, it’s never been scarier to vote in Dallas.
“The threat of violence scares the fucking crap out of me,” Avi Adelman, a retired photographer who was taking photos of lines of early voters at Samuell Grand Park in north Dallas, told The Daily Beast. “We have those militias you saw go after [Michigan Gov. Gretchen] Whitmer here in Dallas, too. And I’m not against the Second Amendment—I’m against idiots with guns.”
Adelman, who was standing far apart from voters as he snapped photos, said he voted by mail because of an illness.
“I’ve voted in every election I could since ‘74,” he said. “So I didn’t want to miss this one. But I didn’t want to mess with COVID, either.”
Ramiro Luna-Hinojosa, a 37-year-old Dallas resident greeting voters in south Dallas, is part of the organization Somos Tejas, which spent the summer registering voters. At each canvassing stop, Luna-Hinojosa handed new voters a pair of gloves, a mask, and hand sanitizer.
“That’s our way of providing the support we can,” he said. “We met a lot of people who were worried about crowds, but we didn’t want that to be the reason they didn’t vote.”
Despite the fears expressed by voters—particularly people of color—Dallas residents showed up in droves for the first day of early voting. At the American Airlines Center, home to the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and Dallas’ largest voting location, masked voters started lining up at 5:30 a.m. Toni Pippins-Poole, Dallas County’s elections administrator, told a local TV station that she was expecting the highest voter turnout in her 33 years on the job. She also encouraged voters to socially distance as much as possible while waiting in line.
Long lines formed in the suburbs of north Dallas, too, where Montreh Nariman-Hassanabadi lives. By the time the 26-year-old got to the Richardson Civic Center, a polling place roughly 15 minutes from downtown Dallas, lines were already snaking around the building.
Some voters, like Nariman-Hassanabadi, would end up waiting two hours.
“My parents and brother are all immigrants from Iran, and for years, they didn't really take voting seriously,” Nariman-Hassanabadi told The Daily Beast. “My brother was never registered to vote until this past spring. The past couple of months, seeing the complete mishandling of COVID, that has started waking him up.”
Nariman-Hassanabad showed up to the polls wearing a face shield, a three-ply mask beneath a cloth mask, and gloves to use when she cast her ballot. “I’m hella anxious [about COVID-19] wherever I go,” she said. “But I think I’m more anxious about my vote counting.”
Nariman-Hassanabadi added that she was “not worried” about violence, and the only poll watchers she saw—after President Trump appeared to invite supporters to menacingly stake out polling places at the presidential debate—appeared peaceful. “Violence can’t keep me from using my voice,” she said. “What I am worried about is that the recent suppression arising, specifically in Texas, could keep others from wanting to show up at the polls.”
Elsewhere in Dallas, voters said the turnouts far exceeded anything they had seen in previous elections. While voting at Martin Weiss Elementary School in South Dallas, Jasmin Flores, a 34-year-old media consultant, said she saw less apathy from friends, family members, and fellow voters in the days preceding this election.
“I think voting nowadays is out of fear on both sides, because people feel like so much is at stake,” she said. “But it doesn’t seem like that’s stopping anyone. I feel this energy, both personally and in my community. I’m Salvadoran, so I’m from one of those countries the president called a ‘shithole.’ Nothing, not even a pandemic, was going to stop me from voting.”
Over 200 miles away, at the Houston Food Bank, voters had the option to go inside and cast a ballot or through the drive-thru in the parking lot. The station supplied masks, sanitizer, and checked temperatures upon entry.
Fifty-nine-year-old Florinda Vega came out to cast her early vote in person, insistent the coronavirus pandemic not upend her democratic routine.
“I was not worried about the pandemic because I prepared as much as anybody could,” Vega told The Daily Beast. “They also had sanitizing wipes for the screen and they practiced social distancing.”
At Houston’s Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, 48-year-old Ericka Thomas bemoaned what she described as a concerted effort by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott to discourage turnout in a state Democrats have long fantasized about. In this case, she was referring to his limiting mail-in ballot drop-off sites—distinct from early voting locations—to one per county, despite demand inevitably being far higher from Democrats packed into urban counties.
“I feel like Abbott’s order was done intentionally to try to disenfranchise the Black vote, but we’re not going to let that happen,” Thomas, a Third Ward resident, told The Daily Beast.
Around 2 p.m. local time, the line at the Civic Center in Humble, Texas, was wrapped around the building. Hundreds of voters of all ages waited patiently in 84 degree heat to cast their ballots. Arkissia Granville, 44, shared the frustration with potential voter suppression, but was defiant all the same.
“We were in line for about an hour and we were determined to get our vote in,” she told The Daily Beast. “I’m with my daughter and this is her first time voting.”
As midday approached in Dallas, Luna-Hinojosa headed to Oak Cliff to greet more voters at the Oak Cliff courthouse. As a DREAMer, he cannot vote. Nevertheless, he felt optimistic about the enthusiasm he was seeing, particularly among people of color.
“The last four years have been very difficult,” he said. “This administration has been attacking women, they’ve been attacking people of color. This is our time to fight back. We can’t afford to be scared.”