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The runoff election for Place 3 on the Mercedes City Commission is this Saturday, however, voter turnout has been low, according to the county’s unofficial tally of early voters.

Figures posted to the Hidalgo County Elections Department website show that just 723 Mercedes residents cast a ballot for one of the two candidates — incumbent Joe Martinez or challenger Leonel Benavidez — during the weeklong early voting period, which ended on Tuesday.

That’s down 16% from the city’s most recent comparable election, the June 2017 runoff for Place 1.

In that election, Benavidez lost to Leandro “Leo” Villarreal by 74 votes.

A total of 1,354 people voted in the 2017 election runoff for Place 1, including 863 who cast their ballots during the early voting period, and another 123 who sent their ballots in via mail.

Overall, voter turnout has been abysmal this time around, even as the number of registered voters in Mercedes has more than doubled since that 2017 summer runoff.

Mercedes had some 8,281 registered voters across 10 precincts in 2017, according to the county’s archived elections results data.

Of those, 1,380 — or just under 17% — voted in the June 2017 runoff for Place 1 between Villarreal and Benavidez.

By contrast, less than 8% of the city’s 18,061 registered voters cast a ballot in the May 7 election that led to this weekend’s runoff for Place 3 between Benavidez and Martinez.

Neither man achieved the 50% plus one votes needed to win the seat outright.

Nor is either man a stranger to runoffs — or to facing off against each other.

The two men previously competed against each other during the May 2019 election for Place 2.

In this May 5, 2021 file photo, Mercedes City Hall can be seen in Mercedes. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

That race drew four candidates, including Benavidez and Martinez, but also a man named Ramon Mejia, who is a stalwart presence at city commission meetings, and a woman named Michelle Reyna.

Benavidez won that election outright with just over 53% of the electorate, or 701 of the 1,322 votes cast in his favor. Martinez was the second highest vote getter with 415 votes.

That election win was Benavidez’s first elevation to public office.

He served a single term as the Place 2 commissioner until he was defeated by Armando Garcia last May.

Meanwhile, Martinez would go on to toss his hat in the ring again in November 2020 — an election that had been delayed for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of six people ran for the Place 3 seat in that election. Aside from Martinez, the race drew Ramon Mejia, Miguel A. Loya, Laura Elizabeth Guajardo, and former commissioners David Garza and Ruben “Chano” Guajardo.

Martinez prevailed over Garza in the runoff on Dec. 8, 2020, making it the first time Martinez was elected to office.

The election is this Saturday. Voters may cast their ballots at the Mercedes Civic Center, 520 E. 2nd St., from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.