AUSTIN — If Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen were governor of Texas and had control of the Legislature, she would implement online voter registration. Right now, Texans register by filling out a physical paper application, and deciphering those applications occupies a lot of the Bexar County Election Department staff’s time, she said.

“You can see people in my office walking around with the registration card saying, ‘What do you think this says? What do you think this street name is?’”

“When I taught third grade … you taught the children how to tell time and cursive handwriting. Well, as we sit here today, neither of those items are taught anymore,” Callanen said to the laughing audience. “And as the end user of all voter registration cards coming in, the expense and time to try and figure out what they say – it’s unbelievable. With online voter registration, that would go away.”

Callanen joined Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis, State Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin), and Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman for a panel at the Texas Tribune Festival Saturday evening. She and her fellow panelists discussed the upcoming elimination of straight-ticket voting, the state’s claims in January that nearly 100,000 non-citizens were on Texas voter rolls, and the implementation of countywide voting in larger counties. 

Callanen explained that in Bexar County’s first election using the vote center model, which means voters can cast a ballot at any polling location in the county on Election Day, her department decided against taking away any polling sites. 

“One of the promises we made to voters is that their neighborhood polls will be open,” she said. “And as we move toward the vote centers and we get our data and we get to look at it, one of the overarching [ideas] is we keep them on bus lines, public transportation lines, so that they’re available to all of our voters.”

The panelists also touched on how their relationship with the Secretary of State’s office was affected by the claims that thousands of non-citizens were on Texas registered voter lists. Davis said when he talks to his peers who have been in elections work longer than he has, they describe the relationship between county election officials and the Secretary of State’s office as “collaborative.”

“You asked about the relationship [now]. It’s not quite adversarial, but now there’s a lack of trust,” Davis said as Callanen nodded. 

“Whatever we take and get from them – and we get a lot of information, a lot of advisories, a lot of memos, a lot of data – we have to verify, and we have to verify it amongst ourselves … because I don’t think it’s just a given anymore that due diligence in some areas is necessarily being done in in the Secretary of State’s office.”

Moderator and Texas Tribune reporter Alexa Ura noted at the beginning of the panel that the Tribune had asked the Secretary of State’s office to participate in the panel, but the office declined to do so.

Davis, Callanen, Trautman, and Israel all enthusiastically supported the idea of making Election Day a state holiday. It would solve the security concerns of schools that allow Bexar County to use their campuses as poll sites, Callanen said.

Trautman pointed out that some cities in the U.S. have swapped Columbus Day with Election Day to keep the same number of holidays in place. And Israel noted that there was one more state holiday that she wouldn’t mind eliminating to allow for a state Election Day holiday, rousing the audience into applause.

“It wouldn’t impact the State budget if we did what we should have done a long time ago and got rid of Confederate Heroes Day,” Israel said.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.