Composite / Rivard Report
Grassroots organizers and campaign staffers for Congressional candidate Gina Ortiz Jones demanded Bexar County Elections Department officials hand over a list of provisional voters so they can make sure all votes are counted ahead of a Tuesday deadline.
At a meeting of the Bexar County Commissioners Court on Friday, Jones supporters and local organizers accused Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen and her staff of disenfranchising voters by not providing the list. The District 23 race between Jones, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd is tight, with the incumbent holding a lead of just over 1,000 votes in the sprawling swing district that stretches from Bexar County to El Paso County.
“This is public record,” Jones campaign field organizer Kristian Carranza Thompson said at the meeting. “The voters of Bexar County deserve to know whether their provisional ballot was accepted or rejected. The Bexar County elections administrator is hiding this information, and we need it, especially in races as close as Congressional District 23.”
Callanen said that Bexar County Elections staff are following federal and state regulations to ensure provisional votes – which could number in the hundreds – are counted properly.
Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) defended election officials, saying they “received a great deal of abuse from the public” and politicians over complaints of long lines and other issues at the polls.
“Some politicians were speaking too soon and trying to get some kind of a spotlight and were putting out information that was not correct,” Elizondo said. “There was no voter suppression or anything of that ilk going on.”
The hard-fought race is close enough for either side to request a recount. The Jones campaign has said it is waiting on provisional, absentee, overseas, and military ballots to be tallied.
Hurd's campaign manager, Justin Hollis, stated in an email that "while we agree that all votes must be counted, it’s also time for Gina Jones to acknowledge that Will Hurd maintains over a 1,150-vote lead that is insurmountable given the small number of uncounted ballots."
Most, but not all, of those who spoke at the meeting were affiliated with the Jones campaign or a progressive activist group.
As of midday Friday, it seemed unlikely that Callanen would immediately provide the list. She said elections staff are still going through provisional ballots and sending letters to voters to let them know whether their provisional ballot was counted and why or why not.
Provisional voters who were registered but did not present a form of valid identification at the polls have until Tuesday to visit Bexar County Elections offices to make sure their votes count, according to the Texas Secretary of State's office.
Callanen told county commissioners that 82 provisional ballots were cast in Bexar County during early voting. Elections staff received 826 provisional ballots on Election Day, she said.
In Texas, registered provisional voters have until six days after Election Day to show up at the county voter registrar’s office. There, they can present a valid ID or submit a form explaining why they were not able to present a valid ID at the polls.
The form allows for “reasonable impediments,” such as a lost or stolen ID, lack of transportation, lack of a birth certificate, work schedule, or family responsibilities.
Grassroots organizers and Jones campaign staff say they want the list of provisional voters so they can help them make sure their votes are counted.
“The voters would be contacted and … encouraged to go in and try to correct their ballots and understand what happened to their ballots,” Jones campaign senior advisor Mike Murphy said. “If they aren’t able to know their ballot has a problem that … can’t be corrected until after they’ve already closed the process to correct that ballot, then there’s no recourse for them and they’re disenfranchised.”
Callanen said that the list they’re seeking of all provisional voters in Bexar County does not yet exist because election workers are still going through provisional ballots and sending notices to voters.
The activists and those in the Jones camp say Callanen should turn over precinct-level lists of provisional voters; Callanen said such precinct-level lists don’t exist either.
Callanen also said that voters who cast provisional ballots received notices at the polling sites telling them they need to present their ID at her office within six days.
“They get a written notice that says here it is, here’s the rules, and you’ve got to go cure it,” Callanen told the Rivard Report. “They get it right then and there at the polls. … That’s all required by law.”
Organizers and Jones supporters were skeptical that provisional voters actually received these notices.
“I never saw anybody walk out with a form,” said Rosey Abuabara, who said she worked as an election clerk at Cody Library at 11441 Vance Jackson Rd. during early voting. Abuabara is chair of TX23 Indivisible, a progressive organizing group focused on unseating Hurd.
It’s unclear at this point how many provisional votes in Bexar County hang in the balance because of a lack of valid ID versus another disqualifying reason.
The distinction is important because only those voters who did not have proper ID can do anything about it before next Tuesday, according to Callanen and a Texas Secretary of State spokesman, though some Jones supporters disputed this.
Of those 82 provisional ballots cast during early voting, only three were provisional because of a lack of voter ID, Callanen said. She said it's not yet known how many of the 826 provisional ballots cast on Election Day were provisional because of a lack of valid ID.
Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office, which oversees election procedures, confirmed that the only reason a provisional voter would have to show up in person to ensure his or her vote would be counted is because they did not have a valid ID at the polls.
In other cases, such as a voter casting a provisional ballot without being registered to vote, it’s up to county voter registrars like Callanen to determine whether the provisional ballot should count, Taylor said.
“For example, if the voter shows up, and their name’s not on list of registered voters, the registrar would validate that on the back end,” Taylor said.
But Murphy said there are other circumstances in which someone who cast a provisional ballot would be entitled to have his or her vote counted.
Voter ID “is definitely not the only way,” Murphy said. “We’ve heard reports of people being sent to the wrong precinct, for example. Perhaps the registration was wrong and they could prove that it’s correct.”
Taylor said county voter registrars are responsible for doing that work.
“That’s the registrar’s responsibility to fix that anyway,” Taylor said. “The registrar is supposed to be doing that right now.”