Among the many new restrictions and criminal penalties related to voting now in place in Texas, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen was particularly frustrated with one on Tuesday as county officials set in motion the March 1 primary.

Election offices can send a mail-in ballot application to someone only if it is requested.

If a resident calls the office to request an application, that individual cannot also request one for her husband, for example, Callanen explained during a Bexar County Commissioners Court meeting. “We have to hear it from him. … It’s just ridiculous.”

Another new rule related to the application requires voters to provide, on both their vote-by-mail application and the actual ballot, their driver’s license number or Social Security number — and they must choose the same number for both.

Callanen said 42 of the 80 applications for mail-in ballots the Elections Department received Monday were rejected because they violated one of the new rules.

It is now illegal for public officials to promote voting by mail, though political parties are still allowed to send out applications.

The deadline to register to vote is Jan. 31, while the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is Feb. 18.

Early voting starts Feb. 14 in the midterm election primary, which also will determine the party nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, and other statewide offices along with county races. If no primary candidates receive a majority of the vote in a race, they’ll head to a May 24 runoff election.

Callanen told Bexar County commissioners she may need additional funding for on-call election officials in case existing staff is exposed to or infected with the coronavirus. The latest variant of the virus, omicron, has caused a spike in cases.

Commissioners Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) and Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) said they will work to find her that funding.

“We have had sites close down the morning of [voting] and that … we cannot accept,” Calvert said. “It’s almost like being in a play, you got to have somebody to back you up and be ready to go.”

The Elections Department is also working on selecting voting sites, some of which have become COVID-19 testing sites.

“We’re debating whether we should be asking voters to come in … where there are potential [positive test results],” Callanen said.

Security upgrades at the Elections Department’s office at 1103 S. Frio St. also are underway, though incomplete, as of this week, she noted.

Last summer, an armed man involved in a shooting at a nearby hotel ran into the office and jumped over the office’s front counter. The incident led to a security assessment of the office by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.

Most of the major security upgrades have been completed, said Dan Curry, director of the county’s Facilities Management Department.

The specifics are confidential for security reasons, Curry told the San Antonio Report, but the work included installing additional partitions, security cameras, exterior lighting, and panic buttons.

Landscaping crews soon will cut back overgrown foliage outside the building to reduce potential hiding spots, Curry said.

A formal status report on the election office’s security enhancements will be provided to the court during its Feb. 8 meeting at the request of interim Commissioner Marialyn Barnard (Pct. 3). Curry said he expects the work will be completed before early voting starts.

“[We need to] get a recommendation on the building security [and] the upgrades that are going to happen to protect and secure the elections and the integrity of the elections, especially the office,” said Barnard.

Tuesday was Barnard’s first meeting after being sworn in last week in to replace former Commissioner Trish DeBerry, who is running to become Bexar County Judge. Candidates for the unexpired term, which ends in 2024, will not appear on the March primary ballot because DeBerry announced her run too close to the candidate filing deadline. Instead, the local Democratic and Republican parties will choose who will be on the ballot in November.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org