There are two entirely separate elections happening right now. Both are on Nov. 2.
Voters in a special runoff election for a Texas House seat around San Antonio are having to vote twice in order to participate in both the constitutional amendment election and the runoff. For the Democrat and Republican candidates, they’re having to first wage an education campaign to explain the unique political process to their voters.
The first one has amendments to the Texas constitution, school bonds and some city elections. Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen says it was ready to go two months ago.
“That election was called August 16th. That’s by the code and when it was done. So we had programmed everything, we’d mailed all our mail ballots and that election was good to go,” she said.
The other election is the special runoff election for Texas House District 118. There are two candidates — Republican John Lujan, and Democrat Frank Ramirez. They got the most votes in the special election last month to make this runoff. The thing about the runoff though, when Governor Greg Abbott announced the date about two weeks ago, it was too late to be included on the same ballot as the statewide election.
“Because the governor did not call it until the Monday before early voting started. We started early voting on the 18th and the governor called it — we got notice at two o’clock on Tuesday, the 12th of October,” Callanen said.
This was after mail ballots had been sent out and voting machines had been programmed. Callenen said there wasn’t enough time to change everything. Early voting began on Monday, Oct. 18.
“It would have been impossible to put it on that Nov. 2nd Amendment election,” she said. “And so we did it completely — it’s completely separate to hold the integrity of both elections. They are separate databases. They are separately programmed.”
House District 118 spreads across the south and east sides of Bexar County. It includes San Antonio, Universal City, Elmendorf, Somerset, and other communities. People who live in this district are going to have to vote twice. Once in the big statewide election, and then again for the special runoff election.
“They’re voting in each separate election because they’re two elections,” she said.
“The four sites that we have, the sites the voters voted in in the first election that we had on September 28th,” Callanen said.
So if someone goes to vote at a site that’s not one of those four, they can’t vote for the District 118 race. They can still vote in the general election but they have to make their way to one of the sites in the district. The same goes for election day when there are more sites available.
“On Election Day, the joint election, which is county wide, will have 277 sites and 24 of those sites. The voters in the 118th will be able to vote at any of those 24 sites that are in the footprint of the 118th,” she said.
The mail in ballot process is mostly the same but there are two separate ballots — mailed at two separate times. Callanen says about 19,000 ballots were sent out for the general election and 1,900 for the house race.
“What we did is we picked a different color envelope,” she said. “The amendment election is in gray. And we chose yellow for this election because that’s what we had on stock.”
The ballots have to be mailed back in the same envelope they came in or they won’t count.
“If we open a ballot and it’s in a gray envelope and they’ve stuck the 118 in there, then we cannot count the 118 and vice versa if they use the yellow envelope and they put both ballots in there …we won’t be able to count the amendment ballot,” Callanen said.
The opponents in this race agree on one thing: this process is confusing, and they’re having to educate voters on what to do. Republican John Lujan was a previous state representative for the district.
“It’s very, very difficult. You know, I wanted to cry foul. You know, there’s people on our team. ‘Oh, it’s foul, it’s the Democrats or it’s the Republicans.’ It’s hard for both of us,” Lujan said. “And with only four voting spots, three only in our district, it’s so challenging for the voters. It’s disappointing that we have to go through this.”
Democrat Frank Ramirez claims the election was called on this date just to create an environment of confusion.
“I think that it’s voter suppression in its purest form. You know, one, confusing people and then, two, after the confusion has been cleared for some people to go back to the polls and vote again when they should have been able to do it from the first go around,” he said.
Early voting for both elections will run until Friday. About 14,000 people have voted so far for the general election and three thousand have voted in the house district. Election day is next Tuesday.