Bexar County residents who still haven’t cast ballots have two more days to do so during early voting.
Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said Wednesday that she was impressed with the turnout so far. As of Wednesday, 36,543 voters had cast ballots early for the July 14 primary runoff. There are 1.1 million people registered to vote in Bexar County.
“The numbers are higher than we normally see in a runoff election,” Callanen said. “We don’t know if that’s … [because] the governor added that extra week [of early voting], but we’re seeing some really strong numbers for a primary runoff.”
Typically, primary runoff elections get five days of early voting, Callanen said, but Gov. Greg Abbott extended the period to 10 days because of the coronavirus pandemic. Early voting began on June 29. The runoff also postponed from May to July.
Callanen said she usually expects a 2 percent to 5 percent turnout in primary runoff elections, but with a few days left in early voting and election day on Tuesday, the county has already hit the 5 percent turnout rate (mail-in ballots included). In May 2016, only 2 percent of registered voters cast their ballots early.
“We’re pleasantly surprised,” she said.
In order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Bexar County Elections Department equipped voting locations with Plexiglas dividers, hand sanitizer, masks, fans, and ways to make sure voters can use the touch-screen voting machines without actually touching the screen. Callanen said that election officials have mostly reported feeling safe amid coronavirus concerns. Though Abbott recently mandated masks in most counties, voting locations cannot require voters to wear face masks to enter. Around 90 percent of voters have been covering their nose and mouth and following election officials’ instructions to sanitize hands and wear gloves, Callanen said.
“We’re looking at this as a mitigated success,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve ever had to do anything in a pandemic.”
The elections department also saw a higher number of absentee ballot applications than usual. Just over 40,000 people requested mail-in ballots, and 23,175 people have already mailed their votes into the elections department, Callanen said. That’s a 58 percent return rate with six days until election day. In the last presidential primary runoff election in May 2016, only 50 percent of voters who received absentee ballots used them to vote. Callanen said she’s not sure what to expect from the response rate.
“It will depend on … whether they’re coming in and voting in person or not, because this is not a well-publicized election,” Callanen said.
She implored voters to wear face coverings when voting in person and following social distancing and sanitary instructions from election officials.
“I guess the word I’ve used more than anything is asking the voters to ‘respect,’” she said. “Respect the election officials that are there for them right now in this critical time.”