June 2, 2012 - Much preparation goes into Tuesday's vote
Title: Much preparation goes into Tuesday's vote
Date: June 2, 2012
By: Elizabeth Varin, Staff Writer
For almost 20 years Grace Ginnis has manned the polls in Westmorland, making sure all those who come to vote know what to do and how to do it.
It’s something she likes to do, even though she has to spend all day Tuesday at the polling place. There’s not too much preparation she has to do — beyond cleaning up Westmorland City Hall and setting up the tables — but she did have to go through a three-hour training course before the election, the same thing all the poll workers have to go through before an election.
“We have good people. We have real good people,” she said of the other poll workers. “Most of the people up there know what they’re doing. I have very little problem.”
While her preparations are at a minimum, others at the Elections Office have spent the past month preparing ballots, boxes, packets and more to make Election Day easy as possible for the voters.
Through the past month, action has picked up at the Elections Office as ballots have been sent out and returned, ballot boxes have been loaded and touch screens prepared and tested, said county elections coordinator Debra Porter. While many may think the Elections Office just counts the ballots after the vote, there’s much more to it.
“A lot of it is prep work,” she said as people buzzed around the office. “There is a lot of work to an election. We invite the public to come in and see our process any time for a better understanding of the process and for a better understanding of how much work it takes to get an election prepared and ready. Maybe they would have just a little more pride in going out and voting on Election Day.”
Extra helpers scrambled around the office last week as they prepare for Tuesday’s election. Blue boxes lined two large rooms, filled with supplies and ballots, while even more crates sat piled up on the side, filled with touch screen voting machines. People busied around, trying to make sure everything was in place, things were sealed and dealing with questions coming in from the public and information going out to the poll workers.
There haven’t been many questions from the public about one of the big changes on this year’s ballot, the move to an open primary election, Porter said.
This will be the first opportunity for California voters to participate in an open primary, which means Democrats can vote for Republicans and Republicans can vote for Democrats. The change to California voting was approved in 2010. While it doesn’t affect local races, which are nonpartisan, it does have an impact on state and federal offices, not including the presidential primary.
One issue that elections officials have been cautioning voters who go into the Elections Office to drop off completed vote-by-mail ballots about is the U.S. Senate race. There are 24 people running for the position held by Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and the names take up two lines on the ballot. However, voters can only vote for one person or it won’t count.
There are still partisan ballots because the presidential race is not an open primary, Porter said. It will affect the congressional, U.S. Senate and Assembly positions.
The Elections Office has already started to run some of the early-returned vote-by-mail ballots through the tabulation machines, though no results will be released until 8 p.m. election night, she said.
There are some changes that began in November that are continuing this year in order to give people an opportunity to vote, Porter said. This year at city halls throughout the Imperial Valley ballot boxes have been set up so that people don’t have to pay for postage. Those boxes are set to be taken back to the Elections Office on Monday morning. People can also drop off vote-by-mail ballots at voting precincts.
This year the Elections Office also set up a system where community service organizations can adopt a polling place, supply workers for the election cycle and receive the workers’ stipend for the organization. While it is too late to volunteer for the June election, Porter said the program will be continued into November, so interested community organizations can contact the Elections Office before then.
It all comes back to one of the main goals of the election.
“We want all our voters to get out there on Election Day and vote,” Porter said. “We put a lot of work and effort into this so that they can have a ballot and exercise their right to vote.”
There are good reasons to vote, especially in this highly contested election cycle, said Registrar of Voters Sylvia Bermudez. This is a big election year, and there are a lot of races, at the federal, state and local level.
“I think sometimes people get that perception that their vote doesn’t matter, it doesn’t count, but it really does,” she said. “You have to remember that each vote you’re making for that person, that’s the person who’s going to stand for the issues that are important for you. That is the person who could vote and implement something that’s going to impact you, whether it be local taxes, ordinances, a variety of things that affect all of us.”
Historically the Imperial Valley has had a low turnout rate. In the 2008 primary election less than 20 percent of those registered to vote actually did.
“We’re known for having a low turnout, and I don’t know why,” Bermudez said.
That turnout may not be going any higher, as there haven’t been many vote-by-mail ballots returned this voting cycle, she said. Of the 24,000 vote-by-mail ballots sent out this year, only about 3,600 had been returned as of Thursday. Those ballots can still be returned on Election Day at the Elections Office or a precinct, but the sooner the Elections Office receives the ballots, the better, she said.
One of those people who may be taking ballots on Tuesday is Steve Butler. He’ll be manning a polling station at Holtville Junior High School.
This is Butler’s first year working at a polling station, but it’s been something he’s been interested in for years. After three hours of training, he’s prepared to work Tuesday.
Going through the boxes and bags and getting last-minute instructions about the process, Butler said he was a little nervous about the coming election as it’s something new for him to work at a polling station.
“We’ll get it figured out,” he said.
Copyright © 2012, Imperial Valley Press