The announcement of a Feb. 12 special election for Texas’ House District 125 has drawn four Democratic candidates so far, and Bexar County’s top election official said the election to fill Justin Rodriguez’s seat will delay the replacement of the county’s outdated voting machines.

Justin Rodriguez has been selected to fill the Bexar County Commissioner seat for Precinct 2.
Justin Rodriguez vacated his seat in Texas House District 125 when he was appointed commissioner for Bexar County’s Precinct 2. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Former State Rep. Justin Rodriguez’s move to the Bexar County Commissioners Court to fill the seat held by the late Paul Elizondo triggered a special election to fill Rodriguez’s office. The new commissioner was sworn in Friday, effectively ending his tenure as HD 125’s representative in the Texas Legislature. Texas Election Code requires the governor to call an expedited special election if a seat in the Legislature opens up within 60 days of the session’s start.

This special election gives candidates approximately one month to campaign, and election workers just a few weeks to prepare for in-person and mail-in voting. Candidates have until Monday, Jan. 14, at 5 p.m. to file. Early voting starts Jan. 28.

Former District 125 Rep. Arthur “Art” Reyna filed as a Democratic candidate Wednesday, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. Policy advocate and Democrat Coda Rayo-Garza and Republican Fred Rangel, who ran for HD 125 last year, both filed Thursday. Steve Huerta, who currently serves as the Bexar County Democratic Party rules committee co-chair and was formerly incarcerated, told the Rivard Report he will be filing on Monday. And former District 6 City Councilman Ray Lopez filed as a Democratic candidate on Friday.

Lopez said the speedy election process gives everyone anxiety, but it has its benefits, like “pulling the Band-Aid off quickly.”

Rayo-Garza said she’s not put off by the short timeframe.

“I’m ready to get to work,” she said.

Meanwhile, acquiring and implementing new machines was originally the Elections Department’s first goal of 2019, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said. But because voting in the special election begins in less than three weeks, staffers who would normally devote time to getting new equipment have to turn their attention to the forthcoming election.

“We went home in December thinking we’ll have new equipment to use in the May election, but that won’t happen now,” Callanen said.

The Bexar County Elections Department has been working for months on a request to purchase new equipment, Callanen said. She estimates new machines will have to wait until after the May municipal elections.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he feels more comfortable with delaying the purchase, because the elections department has not yet brought its proposal for new voting machines in front of the Commissioners Court, adding he wants to ensure the County chooses the right vendor.

“I personally think it’s good to plan [to have new equipment] for the November election, which gives them plenty of time to get all the kinks out,” Wolff said. “This is going to be a lot different than the way people are voting today. It’ll take a little longer to do.”

The new machines would add a printed slip of paper to the voting process, Callanen said. Both certified election equipment vendors in Texas sell machines that work this way.

“You still vote on a touch screen, but it will print your selection on card, and then you take that to another machine to read it,” she said.

The current voting machines were first implemented in 2002. This year marks their 17th year in use – well past the typical 10-year life span, Callanen said.

Callanen estimates the special election also will cost Bexar County more than $195,000, and that doesn’t include the price tag for a potential runoff. In special elections, Bexar County’s voter turnout hovers around 4 percent.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” Wolff said. “Not only the costs, but also that nobody votes.”

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.