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'That's Outstanding': Strong Bexar County Voter Turnout For Runoff Impresses Election Officials

Bexar County saw voter turnout for Tuesday's runoff election that was so strong — even with the long shadow of COVID-19 cast over the election process — that even the experts were surprised.

By 9 p.m. Tuesday, election officials reported that Bexar County exceeded 10% of registered voters. That was with only around 25% of the 214 vote centers counted.

“That’s outstanding,” said Jacque Callanen, Bexar County elections administrator. “Thank those election officials. They did it. They did it under unbelievably strainted constraints.”

Earlier in the day, the elections department reported 100,000 people cast votes in early voting and on Election Day, a number that will surely be bigger by dawn on Wednesday.

Callanen said on Tuesday afternoon, which saw temperatures in the triple digits, that the turnout was was trending bigger than usual for a primary runoff election, and it was largely unexpected.

“We don’t know why," she admitted. "Was it because we had an extra week that (Texas Gov. Greg Abbott) said he was going to extend that early voting? Maybe. Maybe that did it. Because we were seeing double the numbers we were expecting.”

Election judges were tearing down locations and disinfecting poll locations through the 9 p.m. hour, two hours after the polls closed. Mail-in ballots will be accepted through Wednesday.

COVID-19 added the element of fear to the process for both voters and election judges. The county took several additional safety precautions to address the concerns of the community: plexiglass shields, touchless voting utensils, a lot of disinfectant and trash cans.

But the one thing they couldn’t do was tell people to wear a mask. Abbott would not allow the mandate.

By the end of the day, Callanen reflected on Tuesday’s election and what the lessons learned were for her staff and what they will do for November. They wanted to hear some feedback from voters.

“We may hear stories tomorrow or someone may call us and say they were uncomfortable. We need to hear that so we can do lessons learned for November," she said, referring to the general and presidential election.

At least through Tuesday afternoon, voters who spoke with TPR seemed pleased with their voting experience at their polling sites.

Rebecca Cantu was at Lion's Field on Broadway. She was impressed with the safety measures and the efficiency and the overall tone of the process.

"It was very organized," she said. "They would tell you to come in ... and they had hand sanitizer ready and smiles on their face. They had Plexiglass to help you do with your driver's license. And then they gave you all the description of what to do, and they gave you a plastic glove to touch the screen. And then you dispersed your glove when you left. And it was a great experience."

Cassandra Peterson also voted at Lion's Field. "You had to have a face mask when you walked in," she said. "They gave you a glove for you to sign on, for when you sign your name -- so you're sanitary. You kept that glove for you when you went to the voting machine and cast your ballot."

Patricia Thornton and Dr. Anthony Clark voted at the Edmund Cody Branch Library.

Many people voted by mail this election but Thornton said in-person voting is very important to her, despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

"I'm going to come in person," she explained. "I don't care what's going on. ... I take precautions. So I'm safe. And they're wonderful in there. I mean, they got it all set up. It was completely safe."

Clark was pleasantly surprised with his voting experience. "I was really anticipating that there would be more people here this morning," he recalled. "There was absolutely no wait. ... They were very, very cautious in terms of supplying you with the gloves and and social distancing and whatnot."

Volunteer Audrey Fisher monitored the polls at the Edmund Cody Branch Library. "Poll monitoring entails just observing and ideally to be nonpartisan," she explained.

In past elections, she worked inside the polling station as an election judge. But with COVID-19, not this election.

"I had a fear of working an election that I had people who could come in and demand that they didn't have to wear a mask," she said. "And I didn't really want to sit there and be exposed to that for 12 or 14 hours."

Election Day was not flawless, however. Closures and late openings across the state roiled fair election advocates.

In a press call Tuesday afternoon, Mimi Marziani with the Texas Civil Rights Project said that the lack of foresight of elections officials led to the late openings and closure of several voting centers and polls due to worker shortages.

“So last night, Bexar County ... closed three polling sites, all in communities of color," she said. "Tarrant County closed at least one this morning. Many others opened late across the state, and all of this is due to a completely foreseeable lack of poll workers.”

The three that closed in Bexar County ranged in distance from the next available voting center from less than a mile to more than nine miles.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive.
Jack Morgan can be reached at Jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org
Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii