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Westley, Gonzalez to vie for District 15 U.S. rep County plans to increase voter turnout

Rosendo Rodriguez Jr. (left) and Maria Jones hold campaign signs Tuesday on the corner of Closner Boulevard and East Loeb Street in Edinburg. ENA CAPUCION/ THE RIDER

Republican Tim Westley will face off against Democrat Vicente Gonzalez in November for the U.S. Representative District 15 position after both candidates won their respective primary runoff elections Tuesday.

The unofficial results, as of Thursday, for the Republican Party runoff election, show that Westley defeated Ruben O. Villarreal with 1,454 to 1,363 votes.

Gonzalez defeated Juan “Sonny” Palacios in the Democratic Party runoff, garnering 16,063 votes to Palacios’ 8,369. The numbers include all counties.

Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, a Democrat, will retire after serving 10 terms. He was first elected in 1996.

People across District 15 campaigned for their preferred congressional candidate. On the corner of Closner Boulevard and East Loeb Street in Edinburg, about 10 residents held up signs for the Democratic candidates.

Miguel Carrera, a political consultant, campaigned from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m Tuesday. Carrera found that Congress has not been able to accomplish as many things as it could for the past six to eight years due to political deadlock, in which it’s difficult to pass laws that satisfy the needs of the community. As a supporter of Gonzalez, Carrera said he believes that a new face for District 15 will be promising for its residents.

“We need somebody that can represent us in [Washington] D.C.–not only represent us, but represent the best interests in South Texas,” Carrera said. “Gonzalez is what I call a political newcomer. And sometimes, in anything that we do in life, we like to see fresh faces and I think the electorate out there is kind of getting tired of the same elected officials being elected over and over at the national level.

“And you see that a lot on the Bernie Sanders side, you see a lot of people that are going with [Sanders] instead of the traditional Hillary Clinton institution–what I call the institutional candidates. I’m seeing that on the Republican side, too–where people traditionally aren’t voting for the traditional candidates. They’re voting for people on the outside because there’s such a disinterest with the people that we currently have in Congress–whether they be Democrat or Republican.”

Yvonne Ramón, the elections administrator for Hidalgo County, noticed an increase in voter turnout this year in comparison to the early voting runoff in 2012. In 2012, there were 298,419 registered voters in the county, with 3,520 Republicans and 20,014 Democrats voting, resulting in a total of 23,534 early voters. That amounts to about 7.8 percent of registered voters casting ballots. This year, there are 323,874 registered voters; 1,748 Republicans and 25,387 Democrats voted for a total of 27,135 early voters. That is roughly about 8.4 percent of registered voters.

“We’re always striving to get our numbers up,” Ramón said. “It looks great because we had an increase. … [But] we should never be satisfied with such a low turnout. We always see an increase during the general [election] in November. … Definitely, we need to press our community to take that initiative to become informed, become educated about who is on your ballot and go on and vote.”

Ramón hopes to get the younger generations involved to get more people to the polls. The elections department has successfully created permanent early voting sites at both South Texas College and UTRGV.

“I want to do so many things with our university that I hope to one day have some partners there where our numbers are increasing with our turnouts at the university,” Ramón said. “But I’d like to contact people there at the university where we can even get our … students to come out and work the poll location, so that they can also become involved in the other side of the civic duty, aside from voting. It’s going to be a project [that] I would like to entertain–maybe if getting the young involved in that capacity, they will then help others and promote the importance of it.”

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