Voters go to the polls on Tuesday to make several significant decisions for Somervell County — who will be the next new county judge for the first time in 12 years, who will occupy two seats on the Commissioners Court and who will represent the area in Congress.

Early voting has been taking place since Oct. 18 and, judging by the strong turnout so far, Tuesday’s election could attract the most numbers since 2006.

As of this past Tuesday morning, more than 800 county voters had cast ballots in person. About 100 ballots also have been mailed, according to the county's election administrator, Cathy Thomas. About 5,600 people are registered to vote in the county.

Polls open next Tuesday at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Curbside voting is available to voters with handicaps or who cannot walk into the polling place, Thomas said. See page TK for the list of polling places.

The most widely watched local race is for the person who will succeed County Judge Walter Maynard as the county’s top elected official. County Commissioner Mike Ford, who is running as a Republican, and Justice of the Peace Dwayne Griffin, running on the Democrat Party ticket, have conducted clean, hard-fought campaigns based on their experience and civic service.

The seat for County Commissioner, Precinct 2, pits Republican John Curtis, a former manager for 24 years at the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant manager, against Democrat Paul Harper, a field engineer with Microsoft Corp. and manager of the Somervell County Food Bank.

For County Commissioner, Precinct 4, incumbent and retired General Motors employee James Barnard, running on the GOP ticket, faces challenger E.F. “Pete” Edwards, a conservative Democrat who is active in charitable organizations and who owns Glen Rose Auto Parts.

Both candidates for Justices of the Peace are running unopposed. Incumbent Ronnie Webb seeks re-election for JP Precinct 1 and Scott May, whose family previously owned Oakdale Park, is on the ballot for JP Precinct 2.

There has been a lot of confusion among some voters about the JP races because the precinct numbers don’t correspond with the precinct numbers for county commissioners. JP Precinct 1 covers County Commissioner precincts 1 and 2; JP Precinct 2 includes County Commissioner precincts 3,4,5 and 6. When voters show up the polls, they will receive the ballot with the correct JP race on it.

Also on the ballot are two other county positions, both of which are held by incumbents who are unopposed — Candace Garrett for district and county clerk and Barbara Hudson for county treasurer. Both are running as Democrats.

Topping the ballot is the race for U.S. Rep. District 17, the seat currently held by Chet Edwards, a Democrat from Waco. His Republican challenger, Bill Flores, has proven to be a strong and well-funded opponent who has tried to link Edwards with President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — although Edwards has broken party lines on several big votes — and paint him as a career politician who is out of touch with his conservative-leaning district.

Comanche Peak became a hot-button issue for both candidates. Edwards has championed the passage of federal loan guarantees to help finance the plants, while Flores early in his campaign said he didn't favor them. He has since revised his position to say that, although he supports nuclear energy, he will support the loan guarantees for now, but doesn't believe they should be the long-term solution for funding nuclear power plants.

The plant has become an economic development issue in the race since it is expected to create 5,000 jobs if the plant is built. Luminant's application to expand the plant with two new nuclear reactors is still working its way through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's approval process.

Other important elections are, of course, the big state races. For governor, incumbent Republican Rick Perry has been duking it out with Bill White, while Kathie Glass is running as a Libertarian and Deb Shafto is representing the Green Party on the ballot.

Other key positions up for grabs are for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, land commissioner, agriculture commissioner, railroad commissioner and justices on the Texas Supreme Court and judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Brian Birdwell is the only candidate running for State Senator, District 22, representing Somervell County, while incumbent Republican Sid Miller faces independent newcomer Will Bratton for state representative, District 59, which includes Somervell County.

District Judge Wayne Bridewell is running unopposed for the position on the 249th Judicial District court and Al Scoggins, a Republican, is unopposed for Justice on the 10th Court of Appeals District, Place 3.