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At Alzafar Shrine Auditorium, about 200 people were lined up and ready to cast their ballots at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The line wrapped around three sides of the polling site at the building on North Loop 1604 West.

Some voters carried folding lawn chairs. Most wore masks. Once inside, voters stood in a line that wrapped around the windowed walls of the lobby, spaced 6 feet apart from one another by blue tape marking the floor. The auditorium is one of Bexar County’s new mega voting centers designed to accommodate high voter turnout in an election dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and fraught presidential politics.

“I figured [the lines] would get worse as the days keep going on,” said Maricela Gutierrez, who drove to the auditorium with her husband, Steven, and arrived at 7:30 a.m. “So we took the day off, a vacation day to be out here, to get it done and just be done with it, and make sure that we got our vote in early and it was going to count. Just in case there are any hiccups. You never know.”

The couple had already stopped at the Brookhollow Library polling site but left when they saw how many people were in line already. Long lines at many polling places across the county marked the first day of an 18-day early voting period, extended by Gov. Greg Abbott because of the pandemic. Some voters said they waited in line two hours before making it into a voting center, and the Bexar County Elections Department reported that 10,509 people had voted by noon Tuesday.

Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) said he saw “close to 200 people” lined up at the St. Paul Community Center mega voting site before 10 a.m.

“We want to remind folks that I know people are anxious to vote, but keep in mind there are 18 days for people to cast their ballots,” he said. “If you don’t get to it today, you have a number [of days] over the next three weeks to cast your ballot.”

Sylvia Herrera, age 61, stood in line to vote for the first time in her life at the Alzafar Shrine Auditorium. “It’s just crazy everything that’s going on. I’ve just got to say something” by casting her vote. When asked who she was voting for, Herrera replied, “Not who is in office now.”

Maricela and Steven Gutierrez with Sylvia Herrera, a first-time voter at age 61 at Alzafar Shrine Auditorium. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

Shirley Bennett was waiting to vote in person because she was concerned her mail-in ballot could be thrown out or misplaced.

“I was really afraid that my mail-in ballot would be lost, so I’m here to make sure that my ballot counts,” said Bennett.

In the early morning sunshine, a line of about 100 voters wrapped around the parking lot of the Claude Black Community Center in East San Antonio. Voters had to wind their way through lines of cars to keep the driveway clear. 

Five minutes before the polls opened, Estelle Alston was toward the back of the line with her sample ballot in hand. The 63-year-old said she usually votes early.

In past elections, Alston has worked at the polling location as a volunteer for various campaigns and said she has never seen such a long line. The line of cars with passengers waiting for curbside voting assistance grew longer as time passed.

“This is atypical,” Alston said, gesturing to the people around her. “I was here at the last election working and no one was here.”

A line of voters at the Claude Black Center winds through the parking lot on the first day of early voting. Credit: Stephanie Marquez for the San Antonio Report

The line at Lions Field Adult and Senior Center on Broadway extended past the playground, nearly reaching the Shake Shack restaurant across Mulberry Avenue.

John Kovatch said he got the OK from his boss to miss work, so he planned to wait as long as it took to vote. He got in line about 7:50 a.m. and for him, the eagerness to vote far outweighed any concerns about standing in line during a pandemic.

“Honestly, I could care less about the virus,” he said, showing the face mask he held in his hand. “That was the least of my concerns.” When asked who he was voting for, Kovatch declined to answer but pointed out he was wearing a red shirt.

Near the early voting line at the Alzafar Shrine parking lot, a coronavirus testing site attracted no customers. But even as the testing site went unused, many voters stayed mindful of the pandemic and came from different parts of town looking for a faster and safer voting experience.

“We went down to Lions Field first, thinking it might be a little less crowded,” Joe Flores said. “Even though Cody [Library] is where we normally would vote in our neighborhood, that place is so packed. We were afraid of the [lack of] social distance.”

Near Interstate 10 and State Highway 90 on San Antonio’s near West Side, polls had been open for nearly two hours at Collins Garden Library as Connie Rodriguez waited in line outside the entrance.

Rodriguez has voted many times at the library, but said she had never seen a line like this, not even in the 2016 presidential election.

At 9:45 a.m., close to 90 people stood in line outside the library with lawn chairs and umbrellas, prepared to wait under the warm sun.

“I am not moving,” Rodriguez declared. “I want my vote to count. I don’t want to hear anyone say, ‘No, we didn’t get your ballot’ or ‘No, your ballot wasn’t counted.’”

A line of voters wraps around Converse City Hall on the first day of early voting. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

At Mission Library just 12 minutes south of Collins Garden, more than 100 voters, nearly all wearing masks and standing several feet apart, waited in a line that stretched around an adjacent YMCA building and into the parking lot. Thousands of tiny snout butterflies seemed to form their own lines in the morning air. 

Celia Segovia and her niece, Rosario Yznaga, arrived at the library Tuesday morning ready for a long wait. They brought folding stools and lunch boxes. Segovia, 87, said she’s been voting since Texas had a poll tax. Federal courts declared such taxes unconstitutional in 1966.

Segovia called herself a “product of the South Side” and became a nurse at age 20. She worked for 27 years as a school nurse, mostly at Rhodes Middle School. She cited the U.S. Senate’s vote against convicting Trump in impeachment proceedings as well as the GOP effort in 2016 to block Obama’s nomination of a Supreme Court justice as reasons for showing up on day one of early voting.

“I’ve always voted, and it’s very important this year because the Republicans, they just don’t follow the Constitution,” Segovia said. “And I’m fed up with it.”

In far North San Antonio, a couple of hundred people lined up to get inside Encino Library, with the queue stretching over a quarter mile down Evans Road. Having just come off a shift, 25-year-old Marcos Flores said he came ready to wait as long as it took in order to cast his vote.

“I’m glad to see this big of a voter turnout,” Flores said. “We have the great opportunity to vote in this country.”

Behind him stood Rudi and Lupita Weinmuller. The couple said they hoped the line wouldn’t be longer than an hour or two, but Lupita Weinmuller said she was glad to vote to make her voice heard.

“It’s this way at all the polls today,” Weinmuller said. “Everyone wants to speak up.”

Coming out of Encino Library, Carlos Rosende said he’d waited in line two hours to vote, getting in line early so he wouldn’t be too late to work. “This is the right that was earned for us going back to our forefathers,” Rosende said. “This is why the U.S. exists today.”

The AT&T Center, another mega voting center, also saw a growing line before 8 a.m. Equipped with 40 electronic voting machines and three tabulators, the home of the Spurs had metal barricades set up to direct foot traffic to the right place for voters to enter. Red, white, and blue lighting bathed the lobby of the main entrance, where election workers had set up the voting equipment and prepared to greet voters. Christina Liserio and her husband, Jonathan, arrived at 7:30 a.m. to wait for the doors to open, coffee in hand. They usually vote at Lions Field, but heard about the AT&T Center’s new status as a voting location, Christina Liserio said.

“We were excited to vote and didn’t want to wait in line,” she said. “When we found out there was a mega site at the AT&T Center, what better way to vote than where the Spurs play?”

Early voters arrive at the AT&T Center. Credit: Stephanie Marquez for the San Antonio Report

Early voting started at 8 a.m. on Tuesday and will continue through Oct. 30. Sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. From Monday, Oct. 19, to Saturday, Oct. 24, voting sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. On Sunday, Oct. 18 and Oct. 25, voters can cast ballots from noon to 6 p.m. And from Monday, Oct. 26, through Friday, Oct. 30, polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Find early voting hours and locations here. Get information on candidates and ballot propositions here.

Shari Biediger, Lindsey Carnett, Emily Donaldson, and Brendan Gibbons contributed reporting to this article. San Antonio Report is a nonpartisan news organization and does not support or endorse political candidates or ballot propositions.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.