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As Bexar County Election Turnout Expected To Shatter Records, Deaf Voters Allege Inaccessibility At The Polls

Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Interpreter Kay Chido translates for voters Pamie Tapang and Yenter Tu near the Bexar County Elections office near downtown San Antonio.

Friday was the last day for early voting in Texas, and Bexar County will see its highest voter turnout by the end of Election Day.

By mid-day Friday, 569,000 people have voted in person so far. With about 85,000 mail-in ballots added that crests the total about 650,000 which surpasses the 2016 record of more than 598,000 ballots. A press conference held by Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen on Friday was partially interrupted by deaf voters who said the county is not properly providing access to interpretation services at all of its sites.

Callanen held on to her estimate from earlier this week that 175,000 voters will cast a ballot on Election Day.

“I’m still hoping that’s about what it will be,” Callanen said. “That’s allowing for the increase in the registration numbers.”

The group of deaf voters is upset with Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen over what they say is inaccessibility at the polls. The group approached Callanen during a press conference this afternoon on voter turnout.

Ramiro Rodriguez, a deaf voter, said he had difficulties when voting because he couldn’t understand his ballot, and an American Sign Language interpreter was not available.

“I couldn’t understand it. The words, I don’t understand, I had no clue I just went ahead and voted,” he said through the help of interpreter Kay Chido. “So, I just was quiet and I left because I was embarrassed… interpreters are important.”

Callanen said the elections office has two locations for deaf support – the elections headquarters and San Antonio College.

Chido was asked by Rodriguez and Yenter Tu, another deaf voter to be with them Friday as they expressed their concerns.

“He doesn’t live near SAC or here but yet he’s having to drive here to vote,” Tu said. “We have our rights, our vote counts.”

Chido is the chief executive officer of DeafLink which is providing deaf services – like video remote interpreting – to the elections department. Callanen had said DeafLink had partnered with the elections department for at least ten years.

The voters contended the deaf support was not available at SAC.

“I have to research that because my understanding was we had an interpreter there the entire time until noon today, I’ll have to check,” Callanen said.

In Bexar County the polls have been closing at 10 p.m. during the last week of early voting, which is the latest they’ve ever stayed open. Polls typically closed at 8 p.m. in the final days of early voting.

Callanen said while about 3,000 people typically vote per hour in the county, the extra last two hours of each day are seeing drastically less.

“When we’ve tracked this 8 to 10 (p.m.) we’re averaging 210 to 290 in that two-hour period,” Callanen said.

The elections office has mailed out about 120,000 ballots to voters. About 15,000 voters who requested mail ballots opted to instead vote in person.

On Saturday, the elections office will begin scanning the 85,000 ballots that have already been received back.

“We will scan them through the tabulators,” she said. “They’re scantrons… but they’re set up in such a way that the programming does not allow any results to be released.

The remaining ballots are either still in the hands of voters or traversing through the mail system. Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day at 7 p.m and be in the hands of the election office by 5 p.m. the next day to be counted.

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