The Texas Organizing Project (TOP) and MOVE Texas have sued Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen and Bexar County commissioners over alleged violations of the Texas election code.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, the organizations accused the county’s Elections Department of violating election code by having insufficient polling locations for Election Day and not posting Election Day polling sites far enough in advance.
With early voting for the Nov. 3 election starting next week, TOP and MOVE Texas are asking for an injunction to add more polling places in Bexar County on Election Day and to post the Election Day voting sites earlier than the Elections Department typically does.
Callanan issued a statement Wednesday but didn’t address the suit’s allegations.
“This matter is currently in litigation and the Bexar County Elections Department will leave it to the courts to make the final decision, as we focus on the upcoming election,” she stated. “Our staff continues to work seven days a week processing applications for mail-in ballots and assisting voters in the election process. Don’t forget – early voting starts Oct. 13.”
Bexar County has 734 precincts, and the Elections Department has planned to have 284 voting locations on Election Day. In 2019, the county moved to a voting center model under which voters are not required to cast ballots in their precincts; residents can vote at any voting center in the county. Rather than having a polling place in every precinct, the change allowed the county to reduce the number of polling places according to Texas Election Code guidelines.
The lawsuit claims the Elections Department doesn’t have enough polling locations based on the number of registered voters and asks for a minimum of 311 vote centers on Election Day.
The Texas Civil Rights Project, which is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, argued in a September letter to Callanen that the correct way to find the legally required minimum of polling places comes from subtracting the number of precincts with fewer than 100 registered voters and then dividing that number in half to determine how many vote centers would be needed on Election Day. According to a letter sent by Callanen in response, election code allows the consolidation of precincts that have fewer than 750 voters, which means the legally required minimum of polling places is 225.
Bexar County also is adding mega-voting centers at the AT&T Center and the Alzafar Shrine Auditorium that can accommodate larger numbers of voters while keeping them appropriately distanced from one another.
TOP Executive Director Michelle Tremillo said Tuesday that a high number of voters are expected to turn out during the November election, and having fewer polling locations than previous years does not make sense even in pre-pandemic conditions.
“It’s unsafe for the voters and the polls workers,” Tremillo said in a statement. “Our country is in crisis, and people want to exercise their most fundamental right to set our country in a different course. People want to vote, and we are counting on Bexar County officials to have enough polling locations to meet the demands of this moment/election. We urge them to reopen these sites immediately. It’s a shame we had to sue to stop this from happening.”
The lawsuit also asks a judge to issue an order requiring the Elections Department to post the Election Day voting locations no later than the 21st day before the election, which would be Oct. 13.
The lawsuit also accuses the Elections Department of violating election code by not appointing volunteer deputy registrars, who are authorized to help people register to vote. The plaintiffs want the court to order the Election Department to begin appointing volunteer deputy registrars and administering the examination at the Elections Department offices. The deadline for registering to vote in the November election was Oct. 5.
Callanen has said previously that the Elections Department was not conducting in-person training for volunteer deputy registrars due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, people who wanted to become deputized registrars were instructed to take an online course and examination, and then print out their certificate and bring it to the Elections Department.
MOVE Executive Director H. Drew Galloway said Bexar County needs to be ready to handle more voters than ever while keeping coronavirus prevention in mind.
“Bexar County is imposing burdens on its citizens by illegally restricting the appointment process for volunteer deputy registrars and continues to break the law by failing to post the legally required notice of polling locations on the County’s website,” Galloway said in a Tuesday statement. “With just days until the early voting begins, MOVE Texas, Texas Organizing Project, and the Texas Civil Rights Project believe that it’s past time for Bexar County to come into compliance with the state law.”