After election officials saw rising numbers of novel coronavirus cases and related hospitalizations last week, some officials told Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen they couldn’t work on election day, forcing the closure of eight sites.
The 225 voting locations the elections department planned to operate Tuesday for the primary runoff election will be reduced to 217 due to the number of election officials that opted out of working.
“They were calling and saying they couldn’t,” Callanen said. “They talked with their families and they couldn’t take the chance. I absolutely respect them for that. I’m not going to force them into a deal like this.”
Polling places at St. Leo’s Catholic Church, Crockett Elementary, Barkley-Ruiz Elementary, Olmos Park City Hall, Grey Forest Community Center, Hill Country City Hall, Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, and Paschall Elementary will not be open to voters as previously planned. The list of all voting locations that will be open on Tuesday can be found here.
In previous elections, there have been 280 poll sites on election day. But the elections department had to reduce the number of voting locations due to a variety of reasons, Callanen said. The University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M University-San Antonio, which usually host polling locations, will not for the primary runoff election because there are no students there.
Bexar County also eliminated the option of using County buildings because they require visitors to wear face coverings, and Gov. Greg Abbott specifically exempted polling locations from his statewide face mask mandate. The elections department also is no longer setting up shop in retirement communities, fearing for the safety of the older and higher-risk residents in those buildings while the coronavirus continues to spread in Bexar County.
Callanen said the pandemic and the mask exemption for voting locations has pushed the elections department to adapt.
“We have locations in libraries,” she said. “They had difficulties because the city mandated masks. We had to work with them because most of the libraries were not open for full business but a lot had their computers available. They had to make a distinction between, ‘Are you here as a library patron or a voter?’”
Libraries either gave voters an entirely different entrance and exit to use, or posted signs directing voters where to go.
“There was so much minutiae we had to deal with that we’ve learned tons” for the November election, Callanen said.
Voters who are not sure what the closest polling location to them is can use the Bexar County Elections Department searchable database for voting sites, Callanen said. Because of the vote center model adopted in 2019, Bexar County residents can vote at any polling location within the county.
Though most voters have worn face coverings at the polls, Callanen said, some of her election workers encountered people who refused to do so – one of the main reasons that election workers who are no longer working on Tuesday cited as a reason for their absence. And election officials, as a whole, are at higher risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. A majority of the election judges and clerks in Bexar County are over the age of 65, while the average age is 72.
“They [election workers] were confronted with that on a daily basis,” Callanen said.
“Everyone is doing their civic duty and there’s pride in it. But they’re going home at the end of the day to their families and they very vocally told us that it was tough.”
Callanen urged people to keep others’ safety in mind, including the health of election officials who staff polling locations.
“Come on, people,” she said. “We’re all in this together. Everybody’s trying to do the best we can. We’re working our way through.”
Election day is Tuesday. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.