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Bexar County Sued Over Number Of Election Day Polling Sites

David Martin Davies

Two groups sued the Bexar County Elections Department in state court on Tuesday over the number of Election Day polling sites.

Bexar County has 284 polling sites reserved for Election Day but plaintiffs MOVE Texas and The Texas Organizing Project asked a judge to increase the number of voting sites to handle anticipated record turnout expected on Nov. 3.

The lawsuit also included a claim that Bexar County did not accept additional deputy voter registrars who could help people register to vote within the few remaining days before the voter registration deadline.

“We’ve just seen time and time and time again where Bexar County Elections has failed to meet the Texas election code and after trying to convince Bexar County to come into compliance we had to take this step,” Move Texas Executive Director Drew Galloway said.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs asked a judge to order the county to open at least 311 polling sites on Election Day, an increase of 27 sites.

Galloway compared the 2020 number to the 2018 midterms which had a little over 300 sites open on Election Day.

“We are now 18 polling locations short, and we should be 18 to 30 polling locations higher than what we were in 2018,” he said.

Galloway added that there were concerns over long lines and the ability of voters to properly social distance from others. That sentiment was echoed by Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project.

“We saw record turnout in the primary and we know that more Bexar County residents will vote this year than in the 2016 presidential election. It would make absolutely no sense to have fewer locations under pre-pandemic conditions, but during a pandemic, it is downright reckless to crowd people into polling locations. It’s unsafe for the voters and the polls workers,” Tremillo said.

| Related: Texas Counties 'Disenfranchised Voters' By Closing Too Many Polling Places, Say Advocates

In a statement Wednesday morning, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said the issue is in the hands of the court.

“This matter is currently in litigation and the Bexar County Elections Department will leave it to the courts to make the final decision, as we focus on the upcoming election," She said. “Our staff continues to work seven days a week processing applications for mail-in ballots and assisting voters in the election process. Don’t forget—early voting starts October 13th .

However, in a letter included in the filing dated Sept. 17, Callanen said the number of sites met the state requirement.

“We currently have 284 vote centers, and therefore we are providing more than the minimum required number of polling locations for this election,” she said in her letter to Joaquin Gonzalez, an attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, which filed Tuesday’s suit on behalf of TOP and MOVE.

Galloway pointed some of his concerns during the July primary run-off election, which saw some sites closed due to staffing issues.

“We also saw Bexar County shut down either 11 or 12 polling locations hours before election day because they ran out of poll workers, or because they didn’t have enough poll workers to operate those locations. So what we’re seeing is a track record of just not enough polling locations in Bexar County,” Galloway said.

For the July 14 election, the Bexar County Elections Department did close a handful of sites due to the election judges’ fears of COVID-19 when the county was seeing its highest daily increases of new virus cases. Voters for those sites were redirected to other nearby voting centers. For that election, 214 sites were open on Election Day.

During the Tuesday night coronavirus briefing, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff noted that along with other major Texas counties, Bexar moved to a voting center model last year, in which voters may vote at any location. He added that most voters – about 60% – will use the county’s 48 early voting sites before Election Day.

“I don’t know what will happen, you never know what a court does but I think we’ve got plenty of polling places,” Wolff said.

Updated: October 7, 2020 at 11:13 AM CDT
This story has been updated to include a statement from Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen.
Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules