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Voters wait until midnight hour

By Rosemary Hoban Special to the Daily Planet
Thursday October 12, 2000


In San Francisco, they held a street fest – searchlights roamed the clouds above tents, while thumping blues rhythms filled the night air, thanks to a local radio station.  

Across the Bay in Oakland, men and women bundled against the cold, laughed and drank coffee. Down in Union City, they were at the library, and over at the UC Berkeley campus, they sat behind tables on the plaza. 

The events were all part of “midnight madness,” a last-ditch effort by local boards of elections Tuesday, to register as many voters as possible before the deadline for November’s general election.  

“This year, we decided to have a party,” said Chris Hayashi, communications manager for the San Francisco Department of Elections who arranged the mini-street festival on Grove Street next to City Hall. “We stay open every year, but we usually sit quietly behind a counter inside and wait for people to come and find us. We’re having a great time out here.” 

Hayashi was joined on the street by a dozen elections department employees wearing day-glo orange vests and sporting buttons that said “Register to vote: Ask me how.” Late-comers were welcomed by workers who held flashlights over voters’ shoulders as they filled out the forms printed in a half-dozen languages. 

“Last year, we must’ve regis tered one to two hundred people the whole night,” said, Boris Delapine, 28, a campaign services coordinator. “By now, (at 8:30 p.m.) we have way over that number.” He estimated that 1,000 people would show up to register before midnight. 

Hayashi said by the end of the day, more than 475,000 people in San Francisco would be registered out of more than 799,000 residents. 

The street festival idea seems to have worked, creating opportunities for people to register who might not have. 

“I was just riding by,” said Jon Paul, a 28-year-old artist. “I thought, ‘I might as well.’” 

Another woman, who asked not to be identified, pointed to the woman with her and said, “My roommate dragged me down here.”  

She said she was embarrassed to have waited until the last minute. 

In Oakland, Linda Solomon was joking and laughing as she dropped off a fat parcel of registration cards to the Alameda County workers sitting outside the Board of Elections office on Oak Street. She had collected them from people in her neighborhood. The Oakland resident, who works as a CPA’s assistant, said she has been registering voters “for years.” 

“Ever since I’ve been old enough to vote, I’ve voted,” Solomon said. “It’s important that we vote and I want to try to make sure everyone is counted.” 

There has been outdoor registration until midnight for at least eight years in Alameda County, said Bradley Clark, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.  

He said his staff came to work at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning and were staying until midnight to register an estimated 4,000 extra voters, bringing the total number of registered voters in Alameda County to over 643,000 out of about 974,000 eligible to vote. 

Latifu Carr, a receptionist with the Bureau of Elections wasn’t complaining about the long day. “The time flew,” she said “I’m really enjoying this.”  

Students from UC Berkeley came by to drop off two bunches of cards totaling some 3,500 registrants early in the evening. 

“They were really excited,” said Clark. “They were registering people all day on campus.” 

As the evening wore on, small crowds of people arrived at the plaza, some in pajamas and slippers, crowding two-to-three deep around the folding card tables where election workers were sitting. 

“We always get a bunch of people after each of the news broadcasts at 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock,” said Clark. 

“We were watching the news and they were showing this place, so we drove over,” said Meily, a 20 year old from UC Berkeley. “I’m a big procrastinator.” 

The young man with her nodded vigorously. 

“Every year, we get someone signing the card at the stroke of midnight,” Clark said. “One year, I asked one woman if I went to the post office at the stroke of midnight on April 15, would she be there. She just laughed.”