San Antonio Democrats U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro and State Sen. José Menéndez called on Bexar County election officials to increase staffing, improve voting machines, and eliminate printer glitches Monday after receiving complaints from constituents during the first day of early voting.
Several early voting locations across Bexar County saw long lines and printer malfunctions, including Encino Branch, Las Palmas, and Somerset public libraries, according to officials. Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen said she deployed additional machines and staff when she saw higher-than-expected turnout.
“Today is first-day jitters,” Callanen told reporters at the Bexar County Elections Department offices. “Election officials and voters need to remember what this is like. You’ll just see it have a natural smoothing out.
“From our standpoint, our systems are working. The printer problem has gone down, too.”
Castro and Menéndez, who spoke at a press conference at La Palmas, said they would check back Tuesday and throughout the week to ensure voting is running smoothly.
“If it was just a one-time thing or a one-day thing, that would be one thing,” Castro said. “But … this has been a recurring [problem] for several [election] cycles now, and it needs to stop.”
Both he and Menéndez said they did not believe the County had any “malicious” intent, but needs to step up its game to help voters get in and out of polling sites quickly.
“We need to encourage that,” Menéndez said. “We’re not here to just complain, we’re here to help as well.”
Voters should not be deterred from casting ballots because they didn’t have enough time on their lunch break, he added.
“When it comes to suppressing votes, the shrug of the shoulders or inertia can be just as harmful and damaging as active attempts to actually suppress votes,” Castro said.
Posting wait times or line lengths on social media could help voters choose the best polling location, Menéndez said. While some voting sites had hour-long waits, others saw no lines and empty machines. During the early vote period, which ends Nov. 2, voters can go to any location in Bexar County. On Election Day, Nov. 6, they are bound to locations according to their precinct.
Once polling sites close Monday at 6 p.m., location totals will be posted online.
The first day of the 2014 midterm election saw about 13,000 people vote and the 2016 presidential election around 35,000, Callanen said. On Monday, more than 34,000 cast their ballots.
“That part’s exciting,” she said. “I think everyone has forgotten what a large turnout looks like. Which is not to say we don’t understand the people standing in line and some of their frustration. But what we do need to recognize [is that] we should be celebrating the turnout.”
Bexar County and San Antonio aren’t the only areas experiencing higher than normal turnout rates, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told the Rivard Report Monday afternoon. “I don’t think any of us thought the vote was going to be this high … we’re making the adjustments. I think by tomorrow we’ll be in good shape.”
San Antonians are faced with longer ballots this year, Wolff added, because of the addition of three propositions to change the City’s charter
“City voters are spending as much as four or five minutes voting because they’re going over all the wording for the propositions,” Wolff said.
Castro and Menéndez on Monday called for same-day voter registration and for the State to require paper ballots or some form of receipt as a way to physically recount or verify votes.
“Bexar County uses what are considered some of the nation’s most outdated electronic voting machines that leave absolutely no paper trail,” Castro said. “These kinds of machines have been banned in many other states … yet the people of Bexar County are still made to vote on these machines.
“Before we invest in another study on a soccer team or a football team or landing a baseball team, we need to make sure that we invest in updating our voter machines,” Castro added.
The machines are not outdated, Wolff said – they are touch screen and don’t produce a receipt. Bexar County will soon purchase new machines, he said, but they likely won’t make voting any faster.
The Election Department has “plenty of people” to handle increased voter turnout, Wolff said, they just weren’t deployed in time on Monday.
Callanen reiterated a previous reminder, posted on the Elections Department’s Facebook page, that electioneering is not allowed within 100 feet of polling sites.
Neither campaigning nor candidates are allowed within that area, she said. “The only people who can [be there] … are the voters and anyone who is there to assist the voters.”