Mail-in ballot or vote in person? As early voting starts today, here's what you need to know

by Brigid CooleyOctober 13, 2020
HERON FILE PHOTO

As early voting starts today amid the coronavirus pandemic, you may find yourself considering various options to stay safe while casting your ballot.

If you want to vote in person, you have from today through Oct. 30. Like in recent elections, you can cast a ballot at any of the polling sites in Bexar County, either during early voting or on Election Day. There are 47 locations to choose from with the following hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday Oct. 13-17; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Oct. 19-24; noon-6 p.m. Sundays; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. the week of Oct. 26-30. For more info, visit the Bexar County website.

If you're looking to vote by mail, you must request a ballot by Oct. 23, and meet eligibility requirements some voting rights advocates consider are too stringent considering social distancing guidelines.

At stake is the race for U.S. president, as well as congressional races, various state and county positions, and local propositions from deciding the future of Pre-K 4 SA, to deciding on a workforce program called Ready to Work. For more on what's on the ballot, we recommend this Voter's Guide by the League of Women Voters of the San Antonio Area.

Voting by mail

In May, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that exposure to Covid-19 is not reason enough to vote by mail for many Texans, as opposed to states like California and Colorado, which offer universal mail-in voting.

Texas residents are eligible for mail-in ballots if:

» You are 65 years old or older

» You are sick or have a disability

» You are incarcerated but legally allowed to vote

» You will be out of the county you are registered in during both early voting and Election Day

The court does allow individuals to decide if other health conditions, like asthma or a history of smoking, combined with potential exposure, qualifies them for absentee voting. If you decide this applies to you, you must indicate so by checking the “disability” box on the application and describe which scenario applies to you.

To meet the deadline, Ballot by Mail application applications can be hand delivered to the Bexar County Elections office or arrive by mail no later than Oct. 23. Applications are available at public libraries; or call the elections office at 210-335-8683 for more instructions.

How to vote by mail in Bexar County:

» Vote-by-mail ballots can be delivered in-person to the Bexar County Elections office during polling hours; if you are mailing your completed ballot, it must be postmarked by 7 p.m. Nov. 3 and received by 5 p.m. the next day to be counted in the election.

Vote by mail applications and ballots must be mailed or delivered to the Bexar County Elections office:

1103 S. Frio St., Suite 100
San Antonio, TX 78207

Voters who sent in their mail-in application can track the status of their ballot here or by calling the elections office at 210-335-8683.

Election Day voting

According to an election advisory published June 18 by Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram, polling site workers in Texas are unable to refuse voters showing symptoms of Covid-19 and other illnesses.

“The Texas Election Code does not authorize an election judge to ask a voter about their health history,” the advisory states. “This means that election workers cannot require a voter’s temperature to be checked prior to entering the polling place; nor can an election worker ask a voter whether they have experienced symptoms of an illness in the past 14 days.”

The office of the Texas Secretary of State has published health guidelines for individuals to consider before going to in-person voting locations. These guidelines urge voters to wear masks, bring their own hand sanitizer with them and to socially distance as much as possible when waiting to vote.

Attempting to further address concerns surrounding safe voting locations, many states have adjusted their voting processes to make it safer and more accessible. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation July 27 allowing a statewide six-day extension of early voting.

The state will also allow voters to hand deliver mail-in ballots to their county elections office once they are completed, a method usually allowed only on Election Day. Voters must present a photo ID if delivering their mail-in ballot.

"By extending the early voting period and expanding the period in which mail-in ballots can be hand-delivered, Texans will have greater flexibility to cast their ballots, while at the same time protecting themselves and others from COVID-19," Abbott said.

Because Bexar County is part of the Countywide Polling Place Program (CWPP), there are no Election Day precinct limitations; registered voters choosing to vote in-person may cast their ballots at any county polling location during early voting and on Election Day.

Voter turnout

Bexar County has registered more than 1.7 million voters, a 12% increase compared to the 1,045,357 voters registered in 2016, Jacque Callanen, Bexar County Elections Administrator, told the San Antonio Express-News recently. While these numbers may indicate an uptick in voter turnout, it is not guaranteed.

“My only hope—my prayer—is that the people who are coming to register to vote will come back to vote,” Callanen said.

The potential for large voter turnout poses a challenge for safe and socially distant voting sites. As part of the NBA’s efforts to curb social injustices, they are partnering with local governments in various cities to provide available arenas as safe voting centers.

In San Antonio, the AT&T Center will be used as a voting site for the first time. Owned by the county, the 13,725-square-foot space on the Plaza Level concourse will allow room for socially distant voting during early voting and on Election Day.

"This partnership with the Spurs is emblematic of what our hometown organization represents: community, civic engagement and giving back,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said in a press release Sept. 16. “It’s a true win-win.”

While voting sites like the AT&T Center prepare to handle large crowds, some activist groups continue to point out gaps in voting access. MOVE Texas Civic Fund and the Texas Organizing Project, both progressive groups, are suing Bexar County for providing fewer Election Day polling sites than in previous years.

The lawsuit emphasizes the decrease of the over 300 sites open since 2012 to the now 284 Election Day locations Bexar County plans to open this election. The lawsuit demands the County make 27 additional polling locations available to voters this election.

In response, Callanen said the Bexar County Elections Office is leaving the outcome of the lawsuit to the courts and will keep their focus on conducting the upcoming election.

“Our staff continues to work seven days a week processing applications for mail-in ballots and assisting voters in the election process,” Callanen said in a statement released Oct. 7.

Brigid Cooley is a Heron intern this fall. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, where she also serves as editor-in-chief of The Mesquite newspaper. She can be reached at brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

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