SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County Democrats and Republicans could be headed to different polling sites and vastly different voting experiences in the March primary.
Bexar County Republican Party Chairwoman Cynthia Brehm refused to sign a joint resolution at Tuesday’s Commissioner Court meeting that would agree to participating in a joint primary administered by the Bexar County Elections Department. If she does not sign before Jan. 7, a deadline put forward by Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen, then the Republican Party would need to put on its own primary, separate from that of the Democrats.
Brehm told commissioners she had concerns about the election and wanted to meet with the Bexar County Elections Commission “off line,” though she did not give any detail on what the issues were.
“It’s regarding some requests that I have, which are in the election code, and I have been repeatedly denied. And I feel that it’s important to -- to maintain the integrity of the election. And I’ve made my requests known to the administrator, and she has openly denied my requests,” Brehm told commissioners.
Judge Nelson Wolff told Brehm that kind of meeting was not possible.
“Then we need to hash out our differences before we go forward,” Brehm told Wolff, who shot back ”Well, then, don't enter the primary. Do your own. Run your own election.”
“I guess we’ll have to do that,” Brehm said.
Callanen said the county is responsible for early voting and mail-in ballots, whether the Republican Party agreed to a joint primary or not, but the party would be on its own on election day.
“Their responsibility would be to procure the voting sites, procure equipment, procure the election day forms and the kits, the officials, and figure out how they would do election night reporting,” she told KSAT.
Democratic voters, however, would vote in a primary run by the Bexar County Elections Department.
“The Democratic chair signed on the dotted line yesterday,” Callanen said. “So we are committed to carrying out the Democratic primary.”
The Bexar County Elections Department just introduced new voting machines that allow voters to cast their ballot at whatever polling location they choose. However, Republicans would likely have to go to their own precinct as was done in years past.
Callanen said the county does not have extra equipment to give the Republican Party, though she said it could work with a vendor to order its own set of machines at its own expense.
Separate primaries were last held in Bexar County in 2002, and Callanen said there was a lot of disarray, especially for the Republicans, who she said did not have sufficient staffing at polling sites.
“If you don't have sufficient staffing, you have to close that site. And so at the last minute, they closed a huge number of sites, and that led to the entire confusion. The voters didn't know where to go vote,” Callanen said.
The election day costs for primaries are borne by the parties, though they get a set fee of reimbursement from the state, Callanen said. Holding a joint primary, she said, is more efficient.
“A poll site, for instance, on a joint primary, you have one Republican judge and one Democratic judge, and they each have a clerk,” Callanen said. “So you have four people manning the polls. Well, if you have a stand-alone primary, it's your responsibility. And the party would have to pay for those additional personnel to meet the meet that legal requirement. So it's cost-efficient, but more importantly, it's for the voters.”
The joint resolution to provide for a joint primary has to be signed by both party chairwomen and the county judge. Callanen said the Jan. 7 deadline is to ensure military ballots can be mailed out in time.
Brehm did not respond to a request for comment through the Bexar County Republican Party.