Bexar County Elections Department faces possible flood of mail-in ballots amid pandemic

Ongoing legal battle could allow people concerned about COVID-19 to apply for a ballot by mail

Lawsuits filed to allow people to vote by mail amid pandemic
Lawsuits filed to allow people to vote by mail amid pandemic

SAN ANTONIO – With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on every aspect of American life, an ongoing legal battle could alter how many Bexar County voters cast their ballot in the July 14 runoff primary election.

Mail-in ballots are available, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, to people 65 years or older, disabled people, voters who will be out of the county for the election and early voting period, or people who are in jail but still eligible to vote.

The Texas Democratic Party has filed lawsuits in state and federal court in an attempt to allow more voters the ability to apply for a ballot by mail if they are concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic. A state district court judge issued a ruling last week that clears the way for such voters to request a ballot by mail under the “disability” option.

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However, with an appeal of that ruling still up in the air, local election officials don’t know what to expect.

Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen says her office is ready to send out about 25,000 mail-in ballots based on who requested one during the primary election. Should the widened eligibility stand, and the elections department has a flood of requests, Callanen said the department has supplies for about 141,000 mail-in ballots.

But the uncertainty of what to expect concerns her.

“We tend to be type-A personalities, and we want to be able to go," Callanen said. “We all have our plans. We’ve got our project management plans. We like to stay on time. We like to stay on date. We like to stay on task. And right now, we’re just sort of in a holding pattern.”

The elections department faces other issues, too.

Callanen said 60% of their election officials are 65 or older, making them higher-risk for a bad case of COVID-19. The average age of an election official is 72 years-old.

Callanen said the elections department has already reached out to county employees for help, and as Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert suggested in Tuesday’s meeting, to students as well.

However, Callanen also raised the issue of capacity at the polling sites. To keep the capacity of a site under 10 people, if such crowd restrictions are still in place, could require removing voting machines.

She is also concerned about having polling sites available, even asking county commissioners to reach out to their local school districts.

“Obviously the schools are closed. They are on lockdown. They’ve been cleaned, sanitized. They’re not real anxious for us to open those schools for a July 14 election," Callanen told commissioners.

However, Callanen also says turnouts for runoff elections are historically low.

“After March, as we were planning for this one, we were saying, ‘oh yeah, we’ll do 5 percent.’ So we’ll see. We’ll absolutely see," Callanen said.

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