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This article has been updated.
Bexar County voters stood in lengthy lines Tuesday morning even before polls opened across the county, with more than 200 people waiting in socially distanced lines at some voting centers.
The coronavirus pandemic did not seem to deter people eager to get out to vote on the first day of an early-voting period extended this year to 18 days by Gov. Greg Abbott. Early voting runs through Oct. 30 for the Nov. 3 general election.
“This is a major, major election. There’s a lot riding on this,” said Chuck Hildebrand, who waited with his wife, Diana, at the Alzafar Shrine Auditorium polling site, one of four new mega voting centers. “You hear of a lot of people saying, well, my little vote’s not gonna count. Every vote counts.”
Lines of more than 100 people were reported before 9 a.m. at Alzafar Shrine Auditorium, Brookhollow Library, Lions Field, and Encino Library.
Voters can go to any of 48 poll locations during an early voting period that Gov. Greg Abbott extended by one week because of the coronavirus pandemic. Polls are open this week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays. Sunday hours are noon to 6 p.m. Voting sites will stay open until 8 p.m. the week of Monday, Oct. 19, and until 10 p.m. the week of Monday, Oct. 26.
Almost 45 percent of Bexar County voters cast ballots during the early voting period in the last presidential election, and that percentage is likely to increase this year.
Meanwhile, thousands of voters have already mailed in or hand-delivered their absentee ballots, with the voter turnout so far at 3.4 percent.
“It’s really exciting – we’ve had such a huge turnout,” Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen said Monday.
There are more than 1,181,000 registered voters in Bexar County, up by roughly 130,000 compared to the 2016 general election, when there were nearly 1,050,000. Four years ago, local turnout was 57 percent. Callanen expects the number of voters eligible to participate in the November election to increase further as the state continues to verify registrations that were received before the Oct. 5 registration deadline.
Most of the early voting sites are the same polling locations that have been used for the last two years. “Our voters are creatures of habit,” Callanen said.
To allow for more access and social distancing during the pandemic, the AT&T Center will be converted into a mega voting center, along with the Alzafar Shrine Auditorium, St. Paul Community Center, and Palo Alto College’s Performing Arts Center.
As of Saturday, the Elections Department had sent out more than 97,000 mail-in ballots and received 41,190 back, Callanen said.
“Before [in-person] early voting officially starts at 8 o’ clock tomorrow morning, we have 42 percent of the mail-in ballots back in-house,” she said. “I think that’s phenomenal.”
But not all of those arrived at the Elections Department by mail.
Voters have hand-delivered about 400 to 600 mail-in ballots per day to the Elections Department, she said. But the office located at 1103 S. Frio St. is not a “drop-off” location. If a voter wants to submit their mail-in ballot in-person to the Elections Department, they are essentially voting in person, so a photo ID and signature are required inside the office, Callanen said.
One voter Monday morning appeared to be looking for a drive-through, drop-off option at the Election Department office, without success.
“This is fraud,” the woman yelled at reporters and department staff before Callanen’s press conference on Monday. She drove away.
Because the Elections Department office is the only spot mail-in ballots can be submitted in Bexar County, the county will not be affected by a lawsuit that challenges Gov. Greg Abbott’s mandate that Texas counties have no more than one.
Callanen encouraged voters who don’t want to hand-deliver their absentee ballots to trust the post office to do it for them, noting that there are a number of drive-up mail collection boxes and post offices throughout the city if a resident does not want to use their own mailbox.
Last week, Texas Organizing Project, MOVE Texas, and Bexar County resident Jennifer Falcon filed a lawsuit against Callanen, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, and county commissioners for reducing the number of Election Day polling locations over the years. The lawsuit also alleges that the elections department has made it too difficult for people to become volunteer deputy registrars who register people to vote.
Callanen said Monday she was confident the county has enough staff and polling sites to avoid long wait times at the polls.
What to bring to vote
State law prohibits phone use within 100 feet of voting stations. Callanen encouraged voters to “go prepared” by printing and filling out a sample ballot ahead of time or bring along written notes to help making selections on a lengthy ballot.
That will speed up the voting lines, she said.
All Bexar County voters are choosing a president, U.S. senator, state representatives, state and local judges, county sheriff, and county tax assessor-collector. City of San Antonio residents will be asked to approve funding for several programs with sales tax revenue. Depending on where you live, the ballot also may include county commissioner contests, school board races, and a State Board of Education election. Check your registration here to view a sample ballot.
A 2017 state law prohibits straight-ticket voting, a law that was upheld this year despite a court challenge.
Requesting a mail-in ballot
Oct. 23 is the deadline for submitting an application for a mail-in ballot. Registered voters can vote by mail if they are going to be away from the county on Election Day and during early voting, are sick or disabled, are 65 years of age or older on Election Day, or are confined in jail, but eligible to vote.
For more voting information, go to VoteTexas.gov.