Latest COVID-19 surge, SB1 changes impacting Bexar County Elections Office

‘Absolutely a learning curve,’ says elections administrator

SAN ANTONIO – With early voting starting February 14, an immediate concern for Jacquelyn Callanen, Bexar County elections administrator, is possibly having to find three alternate sites since Wonderland Mall, Palo Alto College and Copernicus Community Center are now COVID-19 testing sites.

“It just depends on how long this surge lasts,” Callanen said.

But, she said her office has begun scouting other possible early voting sites near the ones it had planned on using.

Callanen said it’s also possible previous sites at some schools may be impacted as well.

Any updates will be posted on the Bexar County elections office website.

The latest surge also has affected the elections office itself.

“We’re a small but mighty force here. We have a staff of 21,” Callanen said, but as of Friday, four had come down with COVID-19.

Callanen said others are on standby, like the substitute teachers who’ve been hard to find these days.

“We’ll see. We may be in that same boat, but I pray we’re not,” Callanen said, who also expects to hire some temporary help next week.

Although many of her 400 poll workers during early voting, and 1,400 during the general election are older and considered at-risk, Callanen said, “We don’t expect any of our workers to back out.”

She said, “They’ll have all the PPE they’ll need to stay as safe as possible.”

The elections office last year spent at least $200,000 on face masks, shields, gloves, and plexiglass dividers, Callanen said.

She also said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff last year even arranged COVID-19 testing at the elections office for her officials and staff after the election was over.

Callanen said they may do it again if the surge continues as it has.

Also, the upcoming elections will be the first under SB1, which made controversial changes in how people vote.

Callanen said the biggest impact has been what’s required to get a ballot by mail. Under SB1, election officials can no longer automatically send out the applications.

Not only has the application for a ballot by mail changed, “They now must provide either their Texas driver’s license or the last four of their social,” Callanen said.

She said they must match those on file in the elections office.

But up to now, she said voters age 65 or older never had to include that information.

“Then we have to reject it and send them back another one and ask them to update their voter registration card,” Callanen said.

She said voters also can contact her office.

So far, Callanen said about a third, at least 325 out of more than 1,000 applications, had been rejected either because they didn’t include their driver’s license or social security numbers or they didn’t use the new application.

The last day to receive an application for a ballot by mail is February 18th, Callanen said.

“So we have maybe five weeks to, as I say, get it right,” she said.

However, Callanen said she’s still awaiting SB1 guidelines regarding poll watchers and other rules from the Texas Secretary of State.

“They’re the ones that have been tasked to go through SB1,” Callanen said.

But, she said poll watchers will be required to undergo training and have a certificate to prove it.

Callanen said it may be her office or the Texas Secretary of State’s Office conducting the required training.

“It’s absolutely a learning curve,” she said. “We’re all working our way through it.”

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.