Volunteer Katrena Shipp encourages passers-by to attend the drive-up voter registration at the Pearl hosted by The League of Women Voters of the San Antonio Area on Sept. 22. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

With four days to go before the voter registration deadline, about 15 people stood outside the lobby of the Bexar County Elections Department on South Frio Street on Thursday afternoon waiting to register to vote.

Voter registration for the Nov. 3 election ends on Oct. 5. Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said more than 1,165,000 people have registered to vote in the county – a new record.

“Today, we have 1,165,545 registered voters,” she said at a Thursday news briefing. “Isn’t that amazing? And I’m hoping – I want 1,175,000. We’ll see, with five days to go.”

The Elections Department broke its previous record of 1,149,000 last month, Callanen said, and they’re not done registering voters yet. With such high registration levels, voter turnout is expected to be similarly strong. And with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, election officials are anticipating more mail-in ballots than previous years.

But less than two weeks before early voting starts, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Thursday that ordered counties to designate just one drop-off location for mail-in ballots. While this does not affect Bexar County voters, because the Elections Department already had been the sole drop-off point, civil rights and voting access advocates are concerned the move will suppress turnout. 

The Texas Democratic Party and Democratic elected officials also criticized Abbott’s action. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), whose districts include portions of Bexar County, called the governor’s executive order “voter suppression.”

“Just as he previously ignored medical science, overruling local leaders and exposing Texans to virus dangers, he is now restricting an opportunity to vote safely,” Doggett said in a statement Thursday. “Afraid of accountability – relentlessly suppressing the vote – this move will backfire as more voters are determined to be heard.”

About 17 percent of those surveyed in the latest Bexar Facts/KSAT/San Antonio Report poll said they planned on voting by mail in the upcoming election. The Bexar County Elections Department mailed out about 60,000 ballots as of Thursday, and 25,000 or 30,000 more will be sent to voters in the coming days, Callanen said.

Find out more about voting by mail here.

Early voting starts Oct. 13. Election Day is Nov. 3. The Elections Department will be open Saturday and Sunday for voter registration from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Monday, the last day of voter registration, until 7 p.m. Find out more about registering to vote and other voting questions here.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.