Hearing from dozens of concerned residents and voting rights activists, Bexar County commissioners Sept. 6 approved 51 early-voting locations for the Nov. 8 general elections—five more than proposed by the county elections office.
Commissioners also asked Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen to return soon with a plan to increase the number of Election Day locales from 259 to 302.
Numerous residents as well as representatives from organizations such as the Texas Civil Rights Project asked Commissioners Court to address their concerns about ensuring a higher variety of accessible polling places ahead of the midterm elections.
Otherwise, critics said, the county risks getting sued like it did for an attempted reduction in voting sites before the 2020 general election.
Callanen contended residents being able to vote anywhere in any county precinct during early-voting and Election Day periods should allow the county to reduce the number of voting centers. Bexar County Republican Party officials also have called for reducing the amount of polling sites.
But many audience members and critics said there is a need for more polling locations, especially at places such as college campuses where students are constrained by time to get to their nearest voting center before the doors close on Election Day.
Local resident and artist Toro Martinez said having voting centers within a mile of each other does not matter much because some people, for various reasons, prefer to visit their nearest polling site even if those voters may face a longer line there.
“You close one site, then open another within a mile, you’re not solving the problem. We need to have two sites [in the same neighborhood],” Martinez said.
The Texas Civil Rights Project recently wrote commissioners, asking them to boost the voting numbers or risk potential litigation.
“Undoubtedly, the county elections department is again misinterpreting the election code in proposing a reduction down to 258 Election Day vote centers. Because Bexar County likely does not maintain enough voting equipment to fully operate the number of polling places that it legally should, in order to avoid litigation, the Commissioners Court should ensure that the community feels satisfied that the quantity and location of both early voting and Election Day location will give all Bexar County voters sufficient access,” the TCRP said in a letter.
TCRP staff attorney Joaquin Gonzalez told commissioners that, based on a ruling on his group’s 2020 lawsuit against Bexar County, Election Day sites should be operating in at least 50% of a county’s total number precincts. Bexar County has 776 precincts, so the minimum number of Election Day voting centers sanctioned by the county should be 370, Gonzalez said.
Commissioners wound up adding five sites to Callanen’s originally proposed 46 early-voting locations: Our Lady of the Lake University, St. Mary’s University, St. Paul Community Center, Texas A&M University-San Antonio and the Frank Garrett Multi-Service Center.
Per state election law, county leaders may only propose the elections administrator increase the number of Election Day polling sites.
As such, the Democrat-majority Commissioners Court voted 4-1 to propose 43 more Election Day voting locations. Precinct 3 Commissioner Marialyn Barnard, the lone Republican county commissioner, voted “no.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert said saving money should not be the overriding priority when it comes increasing access for voters, particularly those who may feel disenfranchised by voting laws or who are challenged for time and travel during voting periods.
“The most important thing we’re going to do today is acknowledge the fact that democracy is No. 1 on the ballot,” Calvert said.