Early voters walk to the polling site at Lions Field. Photo by Scott Ball.
Early voting begins throughout Bexar County on Monday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report / File Photo - 2016

Record early voting turnout and shifting demographics have Bexar County Democrats smiling, but the election is far from over, Republican and Democrat representatives say.

In the first week of early voting, 273,248 voters cast in-person and mail-in ballots, an increase of 24% from 2008 and 2012, according to Texas Secretary of State Statistics. Following record numbers on Day 1, turnout continued to rise through the third day, remaining unusually strong throughout the week, with a 33% higher turnout on Sunday than in 2012.

These numbers reflect a 12% surge in voter registration from 2012 and growth in the percentage of voters casting ballots early.

Early Voting 2016, Wk. 1 - Total Votes Cast
Early Voting 2016, Wk. 1 - Percentage of Votes Cast
2016 Total Voters Registered by Election Day

To Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina, it is “a good sign for democracy, and a great sign for Democrats.”

By Medina’s analysis, two left-leaning groups with historically low turnout rates have seen marked growth from 2012: As a percentage of total voters, voters age 18-30 have risen from 6.4% to 11.2%, while the Hispanic vote has jumped from from 30% to 37%. Women, also expected to favor Clinton, have increased from 54% to 56%.

“At this point, if the election ended today, we would win every single county-wide race and the (Congressional District) 23 and (State Representative) 117,” Medina told the Rivard Report. “But we still have five more days of early voting and election day, and we just have to keep working hard.”

While voters on the Northside still nearly doubled the rates seen in the other three precincts, the Southside’s share in voter turnout climbed from 16% to 20% and the Westside’s share grew from 19% to 21%, Medina said.

Early Voting 2016, Wk 1 - Share of Voter Turnout by Precinct

Medina attributes this in part to Donald Trump’s offensive comments about veterans, Hispanics, and women but also points to Hillary Clinton’s historic support in San Antonio, which he said has been “Clinton country since her husband ran.”

Bexar County Republican Party Chairman Robert Stovall also recognized the first week as a challenging one for Republicans. But with FBI Director James Comey’s announcement to reopen the investigation into Clinton’s emails 11 days before election day, he anticipates a tidal shift in Republican support.

“The Democrats were definitely outdoing us the first three or four days of the election, but since then, our Republican precincts have been coming out,” Stovall told the Rivard Report. “It looks like we’re starting to gain ground here, so I’m feeling a little bit better.”

A constant thorn in the side of her presidential run, Clinton’s private email server hit front pages again Friday when Comey revealed that FBI officials had uncovered new emails potentially related to her closed investigation on the computer of Anthony Weiner, former Congressman, notorious “sexter,” and estranged husband of a top Clinton aide. While Comey faces fierce criticism from both sides of the aisle for revealing this information so close to the election, the Trump campaign has leveraged it to draw within 1% of Clinton in a recent Washington Post-ABC News Tracking Poll.

“Obviously after Friday’s news, it’s very, very invigorating,” Stovall said. “We have had a surge of people coming into the headquarters.”

Elections Administrator Given Temporary Restraining Order

Though accusations of conspiratorial election rigging have become a staple in Trump’s campaign, most allegations of voter irregularities were brought to the courts by liberal advocacy groups. Texas has faced a number of such concerns, with numerous reports that new voter ID laws have been inadequately implemented.

In Bexar County, this has led to a temporary restraining order against Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen to correct false voter ID information promulgated by the elections department. After complaints about outdated information surfaced on the first day of voting, Callanen reassured the Rivard Report Tuesday that election officials checked all 43 polling sites to verify that only state-approved signage approved was posted.

By Friday, however, the election department’s website, signage, and recorded telephone message still presented Texas’s outdated voter restrictions, leading the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) to file a petition with the Bexar County District Courts. This is especially serious because in July 2016, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declared these restrictions a violation of the Voting Rights Act, mandating Texas to allow voters to use alternative forms of identification at polling booths.

Callanen described the misinformation as an honest mistake.

“The judges, bless their hearts, they sometimes keep things from election to election so that they won’t run out,” she said. “And some of them had these posters put in – they weren’t obvious places when my staff went in to change them. … So those were missed.”

As far as concerns with the voting process itself, Stovall said he has also heard a handful of anecdotal reports of voting booths failing to register a person’s vote once cast.

“I think these cases popping up are real,” Stovall explained. “I think this is causing voters to be diligent when they go in and they vote a straight ticket or they vote for a candidate that they go and review every single page.”

Stovall said he doesn’t want to “sound the alarms,” however, standing by the Reagan mantra, “Trust, but verify.”

“I have confidence in the machines,” he added. “I’ve seen through the process from point A, you know, from setting up, to testing them, to receiving the ballot. I feel pretty good about it.”

Still a Tight Race

From the tortured face-off between Clinton and Trump, to the neck-and-neck races between District 23’s Republican Will Hurd and Democrat Pete Gallego, to a $0.13 tax increase and $450 million bond in San Antonio ISD, Democrats and Republicans see the next week as a crucial battle for the future of our city, county, state, and country. As both Medina and Stovall put it, anything can happen during the next four days of early voting and the Nov. 8 election day.

Voters concerned about waiting in line can consider this daily breakdown in votes cast by location, which shows some voting locations as significantly busier than others. Locations 0n the Southside, such Palo Alto and the administration buildings of South San ISD, Southside ISD, and Somerset ISD, promise the shortest lines, with fewer than 300 people showing up per day on average. Voters can expect to wait in longer lines at Northside locations like Parman Library, Great Northwest Library, and Brookhollow Library, where more than 1,300 voters attend per day.

To search for your individualized sample ballot, click here. Until Friday, Nov. 4, early voters can cast their ballots at any one of these 43 locations, but on election day citizens must vote in their respective precincts.

Daniel Kleifgen

Daniel Kleifgen graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he came to San Antonio in 2013 as a Teach For America corps member.