The Bexar County Elections Department is preparing for a potentially high-interest midterm election this fall while juggling new concerns about mail-in voting and security at voting sites.
Speaking to the Commissioners Court on Tuesday, Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen said her office is still weighing how it should handle a Nov. 8 midterm election that will feature a high-profile governor’s race in the wake of other swirling hot-button political issues.
“Our question as we’re looking at it is, you have the momentum from [the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling], you have the momentum from Uvalde. … Is that emotion going to be carried over and through into November?” said Callanen, referring to potential voter turnout and safety issues at voting locations.
“Those are the wildcards that we watch very, very carefully,” she added.
Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) pointed to high turnout for a recent Kansas primary after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“I think we have to gear up our early voting locations and Election Day [locations] as [if it were] a general presidential [election], because both sides are going to have way higher than normal midterm turnout,” said Calvert, who is seeking his third term on the court.
Commissioners unanimously approved a host of administrative details for the November election Tuesday, including pay rates for election clerks and judges, as well as how many clerks should be appointed to each voting center.
Tuesday’s vote established the hours for weekend early voting: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30. The early voting period begins Oct. 24. Hours for other early voting days, as well as early voting locations, have yet to be determined.
Callanen said there was growing concern among educators about using schools as voting locations, particularly in the wake of the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde that left 21 people dead.
She told commissioners her office had been working with state Sen. José Menéndez on a plan to close schools to students on Election Day. Well before the Uvalde shooting, Northside ISD, the county’s largest school system, set Nov. 8 as a holiday for students, and Callanen said Southwest ISD is considering closing that day.
“This election cycle seems to be more polarized than normal,” Menendez said in an interview Tuesday.
“Because of that, there’s a fear that we could either have someone who would on purpose go [to a school] with a desire to cause harm, or that violence would break out [at a school] as a result of the polarized election,” he added.
Menendez said he’s working with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to get as many schools districts as possible on board with keeping kids home on Election Day.
If schools are not able to close, Callanen said election officials may have to look for other voting locations.
“In many instances, we’re in the libraries, we’re in the front halls, and of course, that is problematic for the schools,” said Callanen. “They may be moving us to the back of the campuses for the protection of the children.”
Bexar County also is taking extra steps its leaders hope will address some of the confusion that caused a large number of mail-in ballots to be rejected in the March primary.
Following the implementation of Senate Bill 1, which mandated a host of changes and restrictions to voting in Texas, Callanen said the county saw a spike in the numbers of mail-in ballots being rejected for being improperly filled out. As many as 22% of such ballots were rejected in March, up from the typical 2% to 3%.
Bexar County has held two elections since the March primary, for a bond election and primary runoffs. In those contests, voters who applied to vote by mail received slips of paper instructing them how to correctly fill out their ballots.
“We’re super pleased that by the time we got through the May 24 election, we were down to an under 1% rejection rate,” said Callanen, who added that the county has already received 25,000 requests for mail-in ballots for November.
The county Election Board, which consists of Callanen, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Sheriff Javier Salazar, Republican Party Chair Jeff McManus and Democratic Party Chair Monica Alcántara, will huddle Aug. 15 to decide the location of early voting sites.
Callanen said Bexar County typically has between 32 and 42 early voting locations, depending on the election and the needs of municipalities. She said the county can’t exceed 45 early voting sites because of the number of computers required.
“We’re going to have a lot more discussion about this,” said Commissioner Justin Rodriguez, who pointed out that roughly 65% of the county’s voters take advantage of early voting.
He urged Callanen to seek more resources from the Commissioners Court for election staff or computers so the county wouldn’t be limited in the number of early voting locations it could offer.
“Every election is important, but there’s going to be heightened interest [this November],” said Rodriguez, who is running unopposed for his Precinct 2 seat. “We just want to make sure there’s no barriers to folks getting access to the voting sites.”