This story has been updated.
Bexar County commissioners called a special meeting Tuesday to approve a final list of Election Day voting locations following a court order asking them to increase the number of polling locations for the Nov. 8 midterm election.
Earlier this month a state district judge ordered the county to increase the number of polling locations to 388 for the Nov. 8 midterm election, as is required by state law unless the county follows certain procedures to combine voting precincts.
The Texas Organizing Project, which sued the county to force the issue, later agreed to a shorter list of 302 locations — the same number the county operated on Election Day for the 2020 presidential election.
Early voting begins Oct. 24. The judge gave the county a deadline of Tuesday to come up with the additional locations.
“This is the 11th hour,” said Larry Roberson, assistant district attorney and chief of the civil division of the Bexar County District Attorney’s office, who updated commissioners about the outcome of the lawsuit.
Despite repeated complaints from commissioners in recent months, county election officials originally planned to reduce the number of polling locations to 258 for the 2022 midterm, citing issues with staffing and low participation at some locations.
Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, but said in a statement that her office plans to comply with the new list.
“The task at hand now is to staff the vote centers with trained judges and elections
personnel,” said Callanen. “We are working around the clock to comply with the mandated number of vote centers, so that Bexar County voters have access to each of the 302 sites on Nov. 8, 2022.”
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Tuesday he remains concerned about the staffing challenges amid an unusually tumultuous political climate. Wolff pointed to recent reports of conservative activists mobilizing to harass election workers in South Carolina as evidence the county needs to be well prepared with adequate election security.
Local Republican officials, meanwhile, are also seeking to reassure their supporters that they have nothing to fear about the fairness and security of the upcoming election.
“Here’s the issue — as a result of the 2020 election, many conservative voters are planning to stay home on Election Day. We cannot afford this in Bexar County,” former Texas GOP Vice Chair Cat Parks told a gathering of Bexar County Republicans last Tuesday at a candidate roundtable hosted at Aligned Mortgage of Texas.
Turning to a panel of candidates and elected officials on the stage, Parks asked each of them how they planned to “ensure a message of honest, fair and secure elections so that those voters will turn out and vote.”
Republican county judge hopeful Trish DeBerry said she had full trust in Callanen and the elections department, but when she mentioned Callanen’s plans to retire before the next presidential election, the crowd cheered.
Republican Party of Bexar County Chair Jeff McManus echoed Parks’ concerns in an interview at the same event. He played a key role in the county Elections Department’s original plan to reduce the number of voting locations, but said the move had nothing to do with election fraud.
“We were having trouble finding enough people to staff the voting locations [before the court’s decision],” McManus said.
“It’s not because of fear of fraud in the election… It’s about having the qualified staff to run the polling stations,” said McManus. “We don’t have the people to staff those locations.”
In an email announcing its victory in the lawsuit, TOP also sought election staff to help work the additional locations.
Bexar County has gained at least 36,000 registered voters since the March primary. Callanen said the county had more than 1,230,000 registered voters as of Monday, up from 1,194,000 in the March primary.
The final list of voting locations includes many college campuses, including Texas A&M-San Antonio, St. Philips College, Northeast Lakeview College, Palo Alto College, UTSA, Our Lady of the Lake University and St. Mary’s University.
“I’m very happy that this court has enfranchised students,” said Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4). “I really think that young people are going to be very pivotal in this particular election.”
The list does not include a voting location at the county jail, as voting rights advocates and some of the commissioners have pushed for. Many inmates are eligible to vote but don’t have access because they are detained after the deadline to request a mail-in ballot.
Roberson told commissioners the last-minute decision to increase the number of locations hadn’t left enough time to work out the logistics of making a voting location in the jail accessible to all voters, as is required by state law.
“Because of the unique nature of the jail … it’s feasible but not possible in such a short period of time,” said Roberson, who pointed to challenges making the location comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
“We started looking at this two years ago, so I don’t really understand the excuses,” Calvert said of the jail location.