In preparation for the November election, Bexar County plans to send applications for mail-in ballots to all registered voters 65 years or older. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Bexar County commissioners voted Tuesday to send applications for mail-in ballots to all registered voters 65 years or older for the November election.

Commissioners approved paying San Antonio-based printing company AMG Printing & Mailing nearly $47,000 to print and mail more than 200,000 absentee ballot applications to age-eligible registered voters. The total number of applications sent out ultimately could be lower, Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said, as 58,000 people have already applied for absentee ballots.

With the coronavirus pandemic still in place, the Elections Department is anticipating a much larger turnout through mail-in ballots, Callanen said. Her department has been “gearing up” to accept and process more absentee ballots than previous years. During the primary runoff, the Elections Department fielded around 38,000 mail-in ballot applications.

The state has sought to squash other mail-in ballot initiatives. Harris County, the state’s largest county, planned to send absentee ballot applications to all 2 million registered voters within its bounds. The Texas attorney general sued Harris County on Monday, writing that “there is no statute empowering County Clerks to send applications to vote by mail to voters who have not requested such an application.”

Bexar County commissioners did not discuss any potential legal issues stemming from sending out the applications.

As commissioners discussed and voted on other items related to the upcoming election, Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) said he was not yet prepared to vote on the list of early voting sites. There are 41 designated early voting polling locations identified so far, including the mega-vote centers at Alzafar Shrine Auditorium and the AT&T Center. Now that the Elections Department has added Palo Alto College on the South Side as another mega-vote center, Callanen said they are searching for one more.

Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) backed Calvert’s hesitation by asking Callanen if commissioners could delay voting on those locations.

“I know we don’t want to do this last minute … but my understanding from the secretary of state’s office is we can approve early voting sites up to five days before [early voting starts],” Rodriguez said. “That would be the first week of October.”

Callanen confirmed that commissioners can delay approving early voting sites until then. She also said there may be more than 41 sites by the time early voting starts, increasing the number of locations 15 percent over previous years.

“We did 38 sites in the last presidential election,” Callanen said. “We had 476,000 early votes in 2016 with less sites and less hours.”

She estimated the County would need 600 to 700 election workers for early voting, and around 1,400 for Election Day. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Callanen said she added an additional election clerk to each site to help people at the door.

“When any election poll is open, the law requires a minimum of three people on duty at all times,” Callanen said. “We try to have four or five there.”

Commissioners also heard a briefing about Hurricane Laura response from Fire Marshal Chris Lopez on Tuesday. An estimated 4,860 evacuees came to San Antonio, Lopez said. The majority came from other Texas counties, but some traveled from Louisiana. Local officials originally expected 50 evacuees to arrive, but 2,100 showed up Aug. 25 before the storm made landfall.

“We were told to expect hundreds of evacuees,” County Manager David Smith said. “[On Tuesday], my phone started ringing around 10 o’clock. Part of what was happening is there were people who self-evacuated.”

The evacuees stayed at local hotels and because this was a state directive, there is no cost to local governments, Lopez said.

Commissioner Chico Rodriguez (Pct. 1) applauded local hotels for housing evacuees. Though depressed tourism provided more room space for evacuees, the staffing levels were similarly low and presented a challenge. Hotels had to find people to clean the facilities, make beds, and perform other tasks when evacuees checked in, Rodriguez said.

“Let’s give the hotel industry … a shout-out,” he said.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.