Though fewer than 4% of the registered voters in Texas House District 118 have cast a ballot during early voting in the runoff election, turnout has somewhat surprised the elections department.

“The numbers are proving out that it’s going really, really well,” Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said Friday morning. In the first round of the special election Sept. 28, 2,044 people voted early in person.

“Right now, as we’re sitting here now, we’ve had 4,660” early in-person votes, she said.

Early voting for the special election runoff started on Oct. 18 and was set to end Friday. Democrat Frank Ramirez and Republican John Lujan emerged as the top two vote-getters to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Democrat Leo Pacheco in August and will face off on Tuesday. The district covers most of South Bexar County and curls around to the county’s outlying eastern portion.

The absentee ballot return rate for HD 118 has also surpassed the September election, Callanen said. While about 1,200 voted by mail in the general special election, the elections department had received more than 1,400 absentee ballots as of Friday morning.

Because this is not a primary election, the county does not track ballot returns by party, Callanen said. But the outcome of the race will likely be very close, said Matthew Jones, a San Antonio-based political consultant who runs Azul Strategies and is not working on either Ramirez’s or Lujan’s campaign.

“More than 50% of the electorate that’s turned out this far in the early vote has Democratic voting history,” he said. “Now, I still think it’s going to be a close election. But based on the analysis that I’ve seen, I do think Democrats have been performing better each day of early voting since it started — but it’s going to be a close election.”

Jones estimated that 30% of the overall vote in HD 118 would come in on election day.

“I think any consultant or person looking at this race and trying to understand where it’s going to end up would logically assume that you’re going to see between 8,000 and 10,000 votes,” he said.

Lujan has outraised his opponent, though Jones said a candidate’s direct voter outreach efforts matters more in special elections. Ramirez reported $209,691 in campaign contributions between Sept. 19 and Oct. 23 and spent $55,244. Lujan brought in more than $100,000 more, reporting $336,451 in contributions during that same period and $83,440 in expenditures.

Though Callanen said turnout for HD 118 was better than she expected, one of the potential challenges comes in how the election itself is structured. There are two separate elections happening on the same day, which means two different ballots: the constitutional amendment election ballot, which has various suburban city races and school bond elections, and the ballot for the special election runoff.

Only four early voting locations in Bexar County have ballots for the House special election runoff as well as the constitutional election ballot.  

Callanen said her department has been fielding questions from people wondering why they can’t vote in the runoff, and staff has to explain that only people living within the boundaries of the district can vote in that race. Once voters get to a poll site where they have ballots for both HD 118 and the constitutional amendments, the process is more clear, she said.

“When they get there, the election official will know whether they’re eligible for [HD 118],” Callanen said. “They give them the ballot for the Nov. 2 amendment election, direct them over to that booth. They vote that ballot and then put it into the tabulator. Then they step over to the other side of that room, provide their photo ID, check in with the computer, get a ballot, vote it, and then put it in a completely separate tabulator.”

The constitutional amendment election is seeing a less robust turnout than she expected, Callanen said. As of Friday morning, more than 25,000 people had cast early ballots in person and the elections office received more than 12,000 absentee ballots. That puts turnout so far at about 3.2%, Callanen said.

“I was aiming for 7%,” she said. “So we may not even get to that point.”

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday for election day. Find the full list of sites for the special election runoff here and all other races here.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.