Bipartisan efforts underway to replace Bexar County elections administrator

Jacque Callanen has overseen the county’s elections since 2005.

SAN ANTONIO — It’s a bipartisan effort for change.

One day after Super Tuesday, renewed calls for the Bexar County elections administrator to step down rang out. 

Jacque Callanen has held the role since 2005.

Local and state voting rights organizations are pushing for new leadership with a focus on countywide efforts of voter registration and education.

Other county leaders believe Callanen’s duties have outgrown her capabilities.

In 2020, Callanen told reporters she would oversee her last general election that year.

Because of that, the search for a new elections leader should have already begun, Valerie Reiffert believes. Reiffert serves as the cofounder and executive director of Radical Registrars, a nonprofit that engages the community through youth-led and youth-focused voter registration and education.

“Here we are, almost done with the first quarter of 2024, and everything is still up in the air,” said Reiffert. “We want a people-forward, a customer service, an elections administrator, an elections office that is educating and empowering and getting the community mobilized to go and vote.”

Radical Registrars started as a coalition trying to bring jail-based voting to Bexar County, expanding voter access to those serving jail time as well as deputies working at the facility. While voting at a detention facility is still a high priority, Reiffert is also pushing for accountability in events of iniquity.

“One of my employees was harassed last year in November for that constitutional amendment election, for using a voter guide that you’re absolutely allowed to use,” Reiffert explained. “The election judge harassed her, chased her out of the building even. This was reported to Bexar County elections; they spoke to the person and they admitted the wrongdoing.

“But that person was still able to continue on being an election judge.”

On Tuesday, MOVE Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) amplified calls for Callanen’s replacement.

The Texas Civil Rights Project’s hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, answered concerning calls from voters Tuesday. The primary issues San Antonio voters reported, according to TCRP, were:

  • Not all polling locations being posted online
  • Voter intimidation

“In the most worrisome case,” TCRP said, referring to the second issue, “three Hispanic elderly voters had a health issue while waiting in line outside to vote. A poll worker assisted the voters and allowed them to take priority in the line. Other voters were frustrated by this and began harassing the poll worker and voters for skipping the line. While harassing the elderly voters, the frustrated voters insisted that the poll worker have the elderly voters show their documentation.”

Those kinds of incidents can have a “chilling effect” on those at polling places, according to Taylor Treviño, outreach coordinator for the Voting Rights Program at TCRP.

“Which could ultimately suppress voter turnout,” Treviño said. “In order for Bexar County voters to be equipped with the resources and information they need to participate in our democracy, the election administrator must be replaced. Jacque has a long record of disenfranchising voters, from not posting curbside voting signs to refusing to put a polling location in jail, Bexar County elections cannot be truly successful under her guidance. She announced that 2020 would be her last presidential election year, and it is past time to make good on that promise.”

‘Needs to be improved’

In Tuesday’s Primary Election in Bexar County, 1,320 fewer people cast their ballot compared to 2022, and 69,951 fewer compared to 2020—the last presidential primary. 

Reiffert says the echoes by other organizations sparked action. 

“I was told that we made history by getting the elections commission to meet,” she explained. “They had not met since 2005.”

In January, the Bexar County Elections Commission convened to discuss the idea of a replacement for Callanen, but conducted that conversation behind closed doors.

“I don’t know why it was held in executive session, other than an effort to muzzle those that might speak out,” said Jeff McManus, chair of the Republican Party of Bexar County.

McManus, a member of the Bexar County Elections Commission, supports replacing Callanen.

“The management level that I perceived at the Primary Election needs to be improved,” said McManus. “Her ability to control the judges and have them do what they’re supposed to do at their facilities is just not there.”

McManus pointed to a situation regarding voter signs illegally being placed outside polling locations. He said signs reading “Democrats Vote Here” were placed outside voting locations on Election Day. 

That is only allowed on Election Day, he says, if similar Republican signage is also included. That wasn’t the case, therefore the Democrat signs had to be taken down. 

“[Callanen] told me she sent out instructions to all the election judges to remove those signs from the voting centers. It wasn’t done,” said McManus. “I feel that the duties and obligations have probably outgrown her capabilities at this point.”

While the elections commission can recommend a replacement, only the Commissioners Court has the authority to hire someone new.

“[Commissioners Court] didn’t charge us with the action to go soliciting or find a new administrator. They didn’t ask us,” said McManus. “I do not believe that the Commissioners Court truly wants a new election administrator.”

“When would you like to see a new County Elections Administrator?” we asked McManus.

“Tomorrow,” he replied.

The Bexar County Elections Commission is planning a second meeting for the near future. That date is still in the works.

“We were told that they were going to do a national search, but I think it’s really important, especially this position, to get somebody established here in San Antonio—homegrown,” said Reiffert. “I think it’d be great if our current elections administrator and the new one could work this presidential election together and then potentially see the new generation in.”

KENS 5 emailed Callanen to ask if she’s planning to remain the Bexar County elections administrator. She immediately replied: “Thank you for asking – no comment.”

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