Come November, Bexar County residents may be able to cast their ballots alongside dozens of other voters inside the AT&T Center.
Bexar County commissioners will be discussing on Friday the possibility of creating so-called “mega-vote centers,” locations with much more space than typical polling locations that would facilitate social distancing and allow more voters to cast ballots without having to wait.
Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) championed the idea of the mega-vote center in an Aug. 6 letter to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, along with other proposed changes and additions to the voting process in November. As a way of addressing voters’ safety concerns during the coronavirus pandemic, Wolff said he liked the idea of setting up mega-vote centers “a lot.”
The county owns the AT&T Center, which seats more than 18,000 and is the home of the San Antonio Spurs.
“We’ve worked with the Spurs, and they’re going to make some of their staff available to help,” Wolff said. “And it’s large enough where we spread people out. The idea is to have four [mega-vote centers], but we will also have other voting centers. We’ll still have plenty of other voting areas too, other than these four.”
Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said that the Elections Department is looking at adding “several” mega-vote centers at places like the Alzafar Shrine Auditorium and the AT&T Center. Callanen has already walked through the arena to see whether adding curbside voting also would be viable for that location.
Though local officials downgraded the local risk associated with the pandemic on Monday, elected leaders are concerned about ensuring voters’ safety in November. The Elections Department normally uses schools, public libraries, and other community locations as voting centers, but potential closures and other factors could affect those plans.
“As we saw in the July 14th primary runoff, several locations had to be closed at the last minute due to some of our dedicated workers making the valid decision not to serve as voting judges,” Callanen said in a statement. “So, as you might imagine, there have to be several contingency plans in place to accommodate the flux of the election run-up period.”
Rodriguez also asked Wolff to increase voting hours (including keeping one voting site open around the clock during early voting), sending absentee ballot applications to all Bexar County residents who are 65 years of age or older, and providing 10 locations for mail-in ballot drop-offs on Election Day. Wolff said that last request gave him pause, because someone still has to staff drop-off locations to check voter ID and signatures.
“State law prohibits you just dropping it off,” Wolff said. “You have to have somebody there that’s trained to match the signature with the mail-in ballot.”
Commissioner Kevin Wolff also criticized the idea of expanding curbside voting.
Infectious disease expert and County medical adviser Dr. Ruth Berggren “has already recommended against this so as not to endanger election officials or voters,” Wolff wrote in a response to Rodriguez’s proposals.
Rodriguez said in his letter that he feared not implementing measures like providing more hours for early voting would result in increased numbers of COVID-19 cases.
“Recently, we have seen severe spikes of COVID-19 positive cases in Bexar County and across the nation, often after holidays or in relation to large public gatherings,” Rodriguez wrote. “The threat to our community and our health care system is real. We must take every measure to mitigate the threat to public health and ensure voters have a range of options to cast their ballots safely.”
The county commissioners must approve an election order that lays out how and when the election is going to be conducted by Aug. 17 for the November election.