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Early Voting In Bexar County To Begin With High Number Of Mail-In Ballots Already Submitted

Jolene Almendarez
Texas Public Radio
Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen holds a press conferenece on the day before early voting begins in Texas

Early voting starts Tuesday, but voters in Bexar County have already been turning in mail ballots by the thousands.

The county will have 48 early voting sites open beginning Tuesday, Oct. 13. Historically, anywhere between 50–60% of Bexar County’s in-person voters cast their ballot during early voting, but concerns over the pandemic have pushed many voters to pursue mail ballots, leading to record mail participation.

As of Monday morning, the Bexar County Elections Department has mailed about 97,000 ballots to voters who have requested them and 41,000 have been mailed in or dropped off.

“Before early voting officially starts at 8 tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, we have 42% of the mail ballots back in house, I think that’s phenomenal,” said Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen.

Compared to the presidential election in 2016, the mail-in ballots received so far are already higher than the entire election.

“We sent out 58,000 total (in 2016) and we ended up taking back in 39,000, so we’re way ahead of that now,” she said. “But we expected it with this big push. We really did.”

Bexar County has 1,181,000 registered voters so far — about 6,000 ahead of Callanen’s earlier projections. Although the voter registration deadline was last week, the elections office is still processing accepted applications that have the Oct. 5 postmark. Some have not yet been sent from the state.

“I think I heard we have about another 5,000 up at the (Texas) Secretary of State’s office,” Callanen said. An additional 500 voter registrations are also pending state verification.

With the number of mail ballots collected by the elections office, Callanen said turnout is already at 3% without a single in-person ballot even cast yet.

The number of mail ballots sent out is expected to top 100,000 in Bexar County. The deadline to request a mail ballot is Oct. 23, but only certain Texans are eligible to vote by mail. You must be over 65 years old, have a disability, or be outside of the county during early voting and Election Day.

Voters can return mail-ballots via the postal service or drop them off in person at the elections office. However, if dropped off in person, the voter must do it themselves and must have their photo ID.

Currently, Texas counties can only have one physical site to drop off mail ballots. That was a recent decision from Governor Greg Abbott that’s being challenged in federal court.

Last week, a district judge ruled against the governor; however, on Saturday, an appellate judge in the 5th circuit put a hold on that decision until a full panel of judges could review the case.

The decision would not impact Bexar County, as it would have only had one drop-off site for mail ballots to begin with. Callanen said that’s due to her office only having one physical location and other counties having multiple satellite offices.

The difference is Bexar County has a dedicated elections department, whereas in many other counties, county clerks or even county tax assessor-collectors manage voter registration and the elections process.

She used Harris County and Travis County as examples.

“People could use multiple hand delivered spots because the county clerk on those two cities specifically have annexes so they have fully functioning offices in other places,” she said. “Well here in Bexar County as an elections administrator we have one office, I don’t have another office.”

This election, like the July primary runoff, includes six extra days of early voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Turnout for the 2020 election is expected to be record-breaking.

Early voting will run from Tuesday until Oct. 30 with varying days of operation and operating times. To see early voting locations, check out TPR’s voter’s guide.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules