Cynthia Brehm socializes at Pete Flores's watch party on September 18, 2018.
A since-deleted Facebook post by Bexar County Republican Chair Cynthia Brehm about the death of George Floyd is prompting calls for her resignation. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Bexar County commissioners on Tuesday delayed approval of a resolution establishing a joint primary in March for the Democratic and Republican parties after county Republican Chair Cynthia Brehm refused to sign an agreement giving the elections department authority to run it.

The March 3 primary is Super Tuesday, highlighted by the presidential primaries with seats in the Texas Legislature and Congress also at stake. Approving the joint resolution has typically been considered a formality for county commissioners.

Monica Alcantara, chair of the Bexar County Democratic Party, said Tuesday she already had signed the resolution, but Brehm refused to do so, citing unspecified “issues” with the agreement.

“I have issues with [the resolution] and I brought this up in the previous meeting, and I’d like you to set a meeting [with election commissioners] before we go forward to have a private conversation,” she told Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff during commissioners court.

Wolff said he did not have the authority to call an election commission meeting, and that without the joint resolution, the Republican Party would have to run its own primary election in March. The parties would run separate primary elections, which would require finding their own polling location, hiring their own election officials, and paying for those costs.

“I guess we’ll have to do that,” Brehm said.

Commissioners will take up the joint resolution again at their next meeting on Dec. 17. The last time Bexar County held separate primaries was 2002.

“We should do one thing – pull out all the newspaper articles, when they ran separate primaries, how screwed up it was,” Wolff said. “The Republican Party was disadvantaged. We need to work this out.”

Brehm declined to say why she refused to sign onto the joint resolution.

“Jacque [Callanen, Bexar County elections administrator] knows precisely what my requests are and she denied those requests,” Brehm told the Rivard Report. “If she’s not going to work with me, we can’t move forward. I don’t want to put what it is out here, I want to talk about it offline. Once it’s cleared up, we’re good to go.”

After the meeting, Callanen also declined to discuss what issues Brehm had raised with the joint resolution.

“It’s hers to tell,” she said.

Because the Democratic Party chair has already signed the resolution, the Elections Department is committed to running that primary election, Callanen said.

“If Cynthia [Brehm] pulls out of this, it’s up to her find a way to run their election,” Callanen said. “The options would be for her to consolidate down on poll sites. She would not have to have the same poll sites as the Democrats. She would have to do paper ballots or work with one of the vendors to lease equipment, and that expense is on her.”

Callanen stressed a solution must be found quickly, because the Elections Department needs to finalize contracts paying election officials and polling site locations for commissioners to approve on Jan. 7.

Callanen said she would address Wolff’s request to look through old news coverage of the last separate primaries held in Bexar County, in 2002. That year, the San Antonio Express-News reported that hundreds of voters faced delays or were unable to cast ballots in the March primary election because election officials were unprepared and some polling locations never opened.

“There were two separate primaries and the Republicans did not hire enough election officials and at the 11th hour had to consolidate 50 poll sites in their headquarters. … From that time on, we’ve had joint elections,” Callanen said.

“For the good of the voters, it’s imperative we work together.”

In November, Bexar County saw its first election with the vote center model – allowing voters to cast ballots at any county polling place on election day – run smoothly, Callanen told commissioners Tuesday.

“What a success you provided,” Callanen said in praise of the commissioners’ decision to move to the vote center model in May. In September, the Secretary of State’s office approved Bexar County to use the vote center model. Previously, voters could vote anywhere during early voting, but had to cast ballots at their assigned precinct on election day.

Of the 56,566 votes cast on election day, 40 percent voted at locations other than their home precinct, Callanen said. With commissioners’ approval, the Bexar County Elections Department will apply to the Secretary of State’s office to be designated a successful vote center county. 

If the Secretary of State approves, they will send the department a document “that says you reached successful status and we don’t have to go back and apply,” Callanen said.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.