Following a parade of public comments and an occasionally tense discussion with Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen, commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve a list of 259 Election Day polling locations for the Nov. 8 election, which Callanen had proposed. However, they also asked her to come back with an additional 43 possible sites, though they could not order her to do so.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Marialyn Barnard was the only dissenting vote.
“Try to work with the court and see if there’s some other ones specifically that they recommend. You know, that you think will work,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told Callanen after the vote.
“Yes, we’ll work with some of them,” Callanen replied. “We’ll work with some.”
In a separate 4-1 vote along the same split, commissioners approved a list of 51 early voting locations for the Nov. 8 election -- at least 10 more than Callanen said she had originally put forward two weeks earlier.
The struggle over the number of Election Day voting sites boils down to an argument over voter access and possible legal liability versus efficiency.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert argued that a judge’s ruling ahead of the 2020 presidential election that forced Bexar County to raise the number of polling sites from 287 to 302 was a clear benchmark.
“We really cannot go lower than 302. OK, so let’s get that straight. Otherwise, we’re going back to court, and we’re going to waste taxpayer money,” Calvert said.
Joaquin Gonzalez, a voting rights attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project who represented several community groups and individuals in the 2020 lawsuit against the county, agreed the judge’s ruling still had bearing.
“It’s surprising that they’re trying to come back -- the elections department -- and reduce the number of locations when there was literally just a lawsuit over this last election cycle,” Gonzalez said.
But Callanen said things have changed since the lawsuit, and because the county uses vote centers, which let all local voters cast ballots -- not just those from specific, nearby precincts -- the county can operate fewer of them.
The elections department has been “methodically” closing Election Day polling locations for the sake of efficiency, the elections administrator told reporters.
“We’ve had sites -- when we have these elections in the last two years -- we’d open a site and there were 25 people that voted all day. Can you imagine less than two people an hour? That’s not efficient,” Callanen said.
Callanen said it would “be a stretch” to get enough election officials to man 302 polling locations, while “we know we have enough for what we have right now.”
There had also been suggestions of using the Bexar County Jail as a polling location, but as of Tuesday that appeared unlikely.
County legal staff told commissioners they would draft a memo ahead of the November election detailing the legal requirements for running such a site.
However, Callanen said “it would open us up to a lot of litigation” because of possible election code violations, like the gate blocking access to the site, the lack of parking, and the inability to campaign outside.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Rebecca Clay-Flores said she wanted the county to continue looking into the possibility of using the jail as a voting site in the future.