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Commissioners approve 302 Election Day polling sites in wake of lawsuits

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Bexar County Commissioners approved 302 Election Day polling sites during a special meeting on Tuesday — less than the 388 ordered by a state district judge.

But the 302 sites were allowed by the court if the county followed rules to combine some locations.

That number of sites also equals the number used in the 2020 presidential election in Bexar County. Voter rights advocates, like the Texas Organizing Project, said they considered the number as a bare minimum they would accept.

County Judge Nelson Wolff said the 302 election day sites and 51 early voting sites made it easy to vote in the midterm elections, and now there were no excuses not to.

"All the money and effort that we are doing, it is oriented toward giving the right to vote, whether it's Republican, Democrat — whatever their point might be. That's not our business. Our business is to give everybody, all of them, the opportunity to get out and vote," Wolff said.

The county was successfully sued twice by voting rights advocates to increase polling sites on Election Day after Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen initially stood by plans to use little more than 250 sites.

The Texas Organizing Project took the most recent successful legal action to boost voting sites as Callanen claimed the fewer "vote anywhere" sites made voting just as accessible as dozens of additional new sites would.

She said voters have told election officials where they vote in real numbers, so she proposed to close underperforming locations based on past turnout.

Commissioners such as Tommy Calvert, Justin Rodriguez, and Rebeca Clay Flores urged Callanen to increase early voting and polling locations, especially in underserved areas of the East, West, and South Sides.

Voting rights advocates, civil rights organizations, college students and veterans groups urged commissioners and Callanen at a packed commissioners meeting in September to not cut voting locations.

Calvert has said cost savings to the county related to fewer polling stations was not as important as voter access. He said democracy itself was on the ballot in November.

Wolff said Tuesday that commissioners are on the side of voters.

"I think we're doing everything we can here at the commissioners court to encourage a large voter turnout. That's what democracy is about. Suppressing the vote is not democracy," the judge said.

Callanen has said finding enough election workers in the threatening climate that surround election workers has not been easy. When TPR asked her if her office has continued to receive threats, she said she "preferred not to answer" the question.

Callanen said more than 1.2 million Bexar County voters are registered to vote as the election draws closer. Early voting starts Oct. 24.

County officials expect as many as 65% of voters to cast their ballots during early voting or by mail-in ballot.

Callanen does expect a high voter turnout for the Nov. 8 election fueled by false stolen election claims lingering from the 2020 presidential election and intense voter feelings over issues such as abortion, gun control, and immigration.

Some estimates have placed voter turnout at well over 700,000.

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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian