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Inside Perspective: Shadowing the Elections Department

By Nanette Forbes
TAC Legislative Staff

I recently shadowed the staff of the Bexar County Elections Department in its preparation for the primary election and primary election day. I wanted to experience firsthand what was involved in getting ready for the big day.

I have nothing but tremendous respect for Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen and her well-organized and competent staff. They all knew their responsibilities and executed them with efficiency and professionalism. Callanen has a very dedicated staff who worked tirelessly for days leading up to and on election day. Their work certainly does not end following the primary; they are now busy preparing for the primary run-off election to be held on July 31, and they will regroup to begin preparation for the general election on Nov. 6.

Redistricting by the Legislature and litigation created many challenges for election officials this year. The first big challenge was, “when are we going to do what?” The redistricting litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division, kept election officials, the parties and primary candidates in limbo for quite some time, unable to determine an election schedule. On March 19, the court issued an order adopting a schedule for the 2012 primary election. There were new deadlines to understand and implement.

Long before I arrived to observe all the activity, the elections department staff had programmed and uploaded the primary election ballots to 1,825 electronic voting machines; poll lists were downloaded to 151 laptops with label printers; 647 packets were prepared for election judges; and 647 paper poll lists were distributed to the judges, even though some received laptops. The Saturday before the election, I arrived at the enormous elections warehouse. The staff was well prepared and organized to receive election judges arriving to pick up their necessary equipment and information to conduct the election at their respective polling places. Elections staff were dressed in pink shirts, which I thought was quite attractive. I think some of the fellas were not happy about the color, but it certainly made staff easy to identify in the huge space. Specific stations were set up to distribute the necessary equipment and supplies to each judge. The last stop for all judges before leaving the warehouse was to make sure they had everything on their checklist. I was amazed at how many checklists had to be completed before a judge left the warehouse. Everything was checked and double checked.

Early Morning
The morning of the primary, all staff arrived at the elections department by 5:30 a.m., diving into coffee pots and gearing up for the big day. I was informed that by 6 a.m., the phones would be exploding with calls from election judges and poll workers with various issues. They certainly knew what they were talking about! At 6 a.m., the phones started ringing all over the office. Some election judges were not able to get into their polling places, while others did not have their equipment or experienced a shortage of poll workers. Some could not get their computers up to view polling lists, hence the reason for every election judge receiving a paper polling list. There were other issues, but these were the most common. By 8 a.m., the phones calls slowed.

Problem Solving
As the day progressed, it was certainly not without problems that required immediate attention. One polling place was surprised by a streaker, which required a deputy to be immediately dispatched. At a few polling places, candidates could not agree where the 100-foot marker should be placed. Deputies were dispatched to the locations with measuring tapes. Another polling place lost electricity and the utility company did not know when service could be restored. One polling place, located in a school, received a bomb threat and had to be evacuated. The polling place was relocated. These were just a few of the problems that occurred. The elections administrator and her staff approached each situation with ease and immediate attention. No one seemed surprised by any complaint or issue phoned into the office.

Results and thanks
At the close of the polls, we waited for the votes to come in from the central counting station. If there were any discrepancies, they were quickly corrected. I would like to thank Jacque Callanen for allowing me the opportunity to personally experience a portion of the election process. She has an incredibly dedicated team that worked very hard to protect the integrity of every vote cast in Bexar County.