Commissioners approve 51 early voting locations, push for more sites on Election Day

SAN ANTONIO – With the midterm elections about two months away, Bexar County commissioners want the Elections Department to provide dozens of additional polling places on Election Day.

After a parade of public comments and a sometimes tense discussion with Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen, commissioners voted 4-1 on Tuesday to approve a list of 259 Election Day polling places for the election. of November 8, which Callanen had proposed. However, they also asked him to return with 43 additional possible sites, although they could not order him to do so.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Marialyn Barnard was the only dissenting vote.

“Try to work with the court and see if there are others specifically that they recommend. You know, that will work out for you,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told Callanen after the vote. .

“Yeah, we’ll work with some of them,” Callanen replied. “We will work with some.”

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In a separate 4-1 vote along the same split, commissioners approved a list of 51 early voting locations for the November 8 election – at least 10 more than what Callanen originally proposed two weeks later. early.

The fight over the number of polling sites on Election Day comes down to a dispute over voter access and possible legal liability versus efficiency.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert argued that a judge’s ruling ahead of the 2020 presidential election that forced Bexar County to increase the number of polling places from 287 to 302 was a benchmark clear.

READ MORE: Judge rules in favor of lawsuit to increase polling places in Bexar County

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“We really can’t go below 302. OK, so let’s get this straight. Otherwise, we go back to court and we’re wasting taxpayers’ money,” Calvert said.

Joaquin Gonzalez, a voting rights attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project who represented several community groups and individuals in the 2020 lawsuit against the county, agreed that the judge’s ruling still had an impact.

“It’s surprising that they’re trying to come back – the election department – and reduce the number of locations when there’s literally only been one trial in this last election cycle,” Gonzalez said. .

But Callanen said things have changed since the lawsuit, and because the county uses polling centers, which allow all local voters to vote — not just those in specific, nearby precincts — the county can tap into fewer of them.

The Elections Department “methodically” closed polling places on Election Day for efficiency, the election administrator told reporters.

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“We had sites – when we had these elections in the last two years – we opened a site and there were 25 people who voted all day. Can you imagine less than two people per hour? It’s not effective,” Callanen said.

Callanen said it would be “overkill” to have enough election officials to run 302 polling places, when “we know we have enough for what we have right now.”

There had also been suggestions to use the Bexar County Jail as a polling location, but on Tuesday that seemed unlikely.

County legal staff told commissioners they would draft a memo before the November election detailing the legal requirements for running such a site.

However, Callanen said ‘it would open us up to a lot of litigation’ due to possible violations of the election code, such as the gate blocking access to the site, the lack of parking and the inability to campaign outside. .

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rebecca Clay-Flores said she wants the county to continue to investigate the possibility of using the jail as a voting site in the future.

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