Bexar County wasn’t the only county in Texas that experienced difficulties reporting election results on Super Tuesday, but it was one of the last large counties to start doing so.
While software issues caused a delay in reporting vote tallies Tuesday night, one problem election officials encountered early on election day was fixed with a simple flip of a switch.
Backup generators kicked on at the Copernicus Community Center voting site to power printers, laptops, and voting machines during the early hours of Tuesday. Utility crews and facility staff investigated the problem; they couldn’t figure it out at first, said Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen.
“There [were] no power issues. … Everything was plugged in, it looked great,” Callanen said. “Well, nobody had turned the surge protector on. … They had not looked at the little light at the bottom.”
Power was restored to the far East Side voting site by 2 p.m., she said.
Callenen called a press conference Wednesday morning to outline the factors that led to Bexar County’s “rough morning” and slow, cumbersome posting of voting results on Tuesday night. In short, a record-breaking number of voters resulted in technical issues.
More than 253,000 registered Bexar County voters participated in the 2020 primary election compared to just under 249,000 in 2016. Voter turnout, however, decreased from 25 percent to 22 percent because the total number of registered voters increased.
This was only the second election in which new voting machines that use paper ballots were used in Bexar County, and 50 to 60 voting sites had issues setting them up properly, she said. Once the polls closed, though, another problem occurred.
“Everything was just going really … well until we [pushed] the button to start to release the early voting numbers,” she said. “It just crashed.”
That delayed the posting of early vote totals, which are usually available on the Elections Department’s website just after 7 p.m. but didn’t go live until after 8 p.m.
The software was able to process only certain types of voting results at one time – in-person early voters, mail-in voters, and day-of voters in separate reports – rather than displaying a single report that lists each category individually and tallies them, Callanen said.
Receive updates on the local impact of coronavirus in your inbox every morning.
“We could only [post the numbers] in silos,” she said. “If we added them together, we had a flood” and the system would crash.
Bexar County officials will hold another press conference “once we know the how, the way, the where, the why” of the problems, she said. “But we will definitely get an answer.”
The Elections Department will be working closely with Election Systems and Software (ES&S), which produces the system Bexar County uses, to fix the reporting issue before the November general election.
Callanen expressed continued confidence in ES&S, which has had a contract with the County since 2002. “They won’t stop until they can give us a solid answer.”
Another path to a smoother November general election would be increasing paid and volunteer staff at polling sites on Election Day and additional training to ensure they can answer questions from voters, Callanen said.
“Every time officials have to [stop to] have a discussion with somebody, that’s going to add to the [length of the] line,” she said. “I was not prepared for that. … I feel like I let the election officials down.”
As Bexar County grows, more people are moving to the area from states with different elections rules, she said, and the biggest issue was that Texas does not allow voters to use smartphones inside polling sites.
“The State of Texas has not grown with technology,” she said. “That takes time to explain.”
Voters across the state – many in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio – waited in line for hours to cast their ballots; at Texas Southern University in Houston, voters were casting ballots six hours after polls were scheduled to close.
Vote totals posted online are not final until each party canvasses its votes on March 12. Mail-in votes from U.S. military voters overseas will be collected over the next six days.
The unofficial vote totals are online here. Callanen said she expects to have an updated report on Thursday.