This story has been updated.
Though temperatures reached 105 degrees on election day, more than 20,000 people came out to vote on Tuesday by 4 p.m., said Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen.
“Today has been a super day for this election,” she told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday is election day for the primary runoff election in Texas, with some congressional, Senate, and county nominees still to be decided in the Democratic and Republican primaries. With the early vote, mail-in ballots that have been counted, and election day votes so far, Bexar County already broke the 100,000-voter mark, Callanen said. That’s 9 percent of the 1.1 million registered voters in Bexar County.
“We got a great early voting in-person [turnout],” Callanen said. “We don’t know why. Was it because we had an extra week that the governor said he’d extend voting? Maybe that did it because we’re seeing double the numbers expected. With COVID, the heat, the postponed election – it was almost a perfect storm, but voters are coming out.”
By comparison, in the last primary runoff election during a presidential election year, 8,231 total Bexar County residents voted on election day in 2016.
Polls close Tuesday at 7 p.m. Find polling locations here.
At 7 a.m., when polls opened Tuesday, William Martin set up his umbrella, his folding chair, and propped up a campaign sign for Kathryn Brown by the Tobin Library. He’s been campaigning for the Precinct 4 Democratic constable candidate since the beginning of the year, he said.
“Things are going pretty good,” he said Tuesday around 9 a.m. “It’s kind of slow right now, but I’m sure it’ll pick up later. Since I’ve been here, about 25 people have voted so far.”
Bexar County polling locations saw a steady trickle of voters throughout the first half of election day. But turnout was not even across the board – at 29 different voting sites, fewer than 25 people had cast ballots by 4 p.m., Callanen said.
“That’s 13.5 percent [of our sites] with fewer than 25 voters,” Callanen said.
Martin said he and other campaign workers begin their day under the shade of a tree and move their chairs to follow shadows throughout the day to avoid the scorching heat.
Sitting near Martin was Mike Ramirez, Brown’s opponent in the runoff who was hoping to make a final case to voters as they entered the Northeast San Antonio polling place. Ramirez said the coronavirus forced him to change his campaign strategy.
“This time around, it’s totally different because of the pandemic,” he said. “There’s not forums to go out and talk to people. Everything is virtual.”
Trish DeBerry, who is running against former judge Tom Rickhoff for the Republican nomination for Precinct 3 county commissioner, had to adapt in a similar fashion. She set up shop under a canopy at Brook Hollow Library on Tuesday morning in an attempt to avoid the summer heat. The North San Antonio library is one of the busiest voting sites during elections. By 4 p.m., more than 300 people had cast ballots there, according to Callanen.
“I think turnout has been heavier than a traditional primary runoff,” DeBerry said. “We did some modeling and anticipated 15,000 people would show up in the precinct to vote. After early voting, there was close to 20,000 [who voted in the Republican primary runoff].”
Her campaign manager, Tom Marks, said he guessed around 20,000 to 21,000 would have voted in the Precinct 3 runoff by the end of the day.
“This is a pretty sizeable turnout for runoff election in July,” he said.
At Mission Library, a short but steady line of voters waited outside of the polling location for their turn to go inside. By 11:30 a.m., 72 voters had cast ballots at the South San Antonio library. All were wearing masks in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, including voter René Cardenas, who came with his father to cast their ballots.
“My father and I have always voted,” Cardenas said. “We’re immigrants. When I became a citizen at the age of 28, I’ve always taken advantage of voting, versus other Americans who don’t practice that.”
Cardenas usually votes at St. Leo’s Catholic Church, but ended up at Mission Library after discovering the church was closed. St. Leo’s was one of the 11 sites that the Bexar County Elections Department closed after election workers said they were too concerned about contracting the coronavirus to work on election day. Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide face coverings order exempts voters visiting polling places.
Cardenas said his friends had shown much more interest in the current election than usual, thanks to the pandemic and how it affected the economy.
“People are getting affected by the economy whether they have a job or not,” Cardenas said. “Right now, the big question this week is schools and whether not to open them up or not. There are a lot of issues hitting home and making people realize why it’s important to vote and why people should care – because it’s affecting them at home.”
Josie Barajas, who voted at the Tobin Library Tuesday morning, said she noticed people around her paying more attention to political issues and the primary runoff election.
“I think they’re just not happy with the climate of things and are trying to do their part to promote change,” Barajas said.
Cardenas used the eraser end of a pencil to press his selections on the voting machines. Bexar County election workers are equipped with pencils, gloves, and finger cots to keep the voting machines as hygienic as possible. Voting during a pandemic didn’t faze Sylvia Crevoisier and her husband, Ralph, who are in their 80s and voted at Brook Hollow.
“By now this has been going on for so long that it just doesn’t seem different anymore,” she said.
Her husband agreed, saying the two of them have been doing their best to stay safe during the pandemic. Like other voters lined up around them on Tuesday morning, they wore masks.
“We’ve been housebound,” he said. “You know, they say stay at home, so we stayed at home.”