New voting law changes won’t take effect anytime soon in Bexar County, elections administrator says

Advocate says disability community bracing for what’s ahead

SAN ANTONIO – Gov. Greg Abbott may have signed the voting bill Tuesday, but Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said those changes wouldn’t go into effect anytime soon.

She said the county’s elections office is in “a holding pattern.”

“At this point, it will have no effect on the two upcoming elections that we’re doing,” Callanen said.

A special election to fill the District 118 seat vacated by State Rep. Leo Pacheco will be Sept. 28, followed by an election on Nov. 2 regarding constitutional amendments, several school board and city elections, and other races.

By law, Callanen said, the newly signed legislation won’t go into effect until 91 days after the last special session ended.

“It could be well into December,” she said, but that will depend on pending federal litigation.

Even then, she said the Texas Legislature has to finish redistricting ahead of the March primaries, any run-off races in May and mid-term elections in November.

Callanen said the new law could be delayed even longer by any redistricting lawsuits.

In the meantime, many in the disability community are bracing for what’s ahead.

“They’re frightened. They don’t know what to believe,” said Bob Kafka, an outspoken disability advocate, and coordinator with Rev Up Texas, a statewide coalition organized to empower and educate disabled voters.

Rev Up Texas, among other groups, such as Disability Rights Texas, have joined federal lawsuits trying to stop the new law from going into effect.

Kafka said among their many concerns is the possibility that a personal attendant could be charged with a felony if a poll watcher believes they’re interfering, rather than helping a disabled voter cast their ballot.

Callanen said the poll watchers, who now have more freedom of movement at polling places, will be trained with proper protocol.

However, Kafka said he worries many poll watchers won’t realize that not all disabilities are physically apparent.

“We have people who are blind, people who are deaf, people with cognitive disabilities, people with autism, people with mental health, people who use wheelchairs, canes, PTSD,” Kafka said. “We are a tossed salad of people.”

In response to the new voting law, Kafka said, next week -- Sept. 13-20 -- is National Disability Voter Registration Week. He urges disabled voters to go to Rev Up’s website at 10:30 a.m. Monday to watch “Good Morning Rev Up” and learn the best ways to register to vote.

“We’re going to do everything to try to educate our people and keep the turnout going,” Kafka said.

About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.